"--But you can't apply the Marxist idea of dispossession to the present-day political economy," Cobb said.
Marte made a disgusted sound. "The concept of dispossession does work. Dispossession now is when global capitalism is gained from the opening and taking over of previously local markets."
"Gramsci--" Cobb began, voice rising.
"If you accept this definition, then the argument is resolved."
"Resolved, my ass," said Cobb.
Eames snorted and tipped his chair back. "I think we can all agree that globalisation and neoliberalism are tools of US hegemony."
"What hegemony?" Cobb protested, his eyes bright and furious, and Eames, already bored with this conversation, tuned out Marte's scathing reply.
From this angle, he had a direct line of sight to Arthur, who hadn't joined in their discussion. That in itself was interesting: Eames hadn't met anyone in dreamsharing who wasn't eager to show off how clever they were.
They'd been introduced three days ago. It had gone something like this:
"The name's Eames, love," Eames had said, giving Arthur a firm handshake (and a look-over; why did the man even bother wearing trousers if they were going to be that tailored?). "Doctorates in Psychology and Philosophy, and an MA in Theatre."
"Okay," said Arthur. "I'm Arthur."
Eames had heard of Cobb and Arthur before, of course. There were some interesting rumours about them. Cobb's a crazy genius, one of Eames' contacts had told him, he once performed an extraction on a tiger! Another architect had mentioned before that Arthur was simply hired muscle Cobb had gotten to do his dirty work, immediately followed by, and one time he took out sixteen projections with a fork!
Now, Arthur had both feet on a desk and his chair tipped back, like Eames', so that his long, long legs stretched out before him; he was repeatedly tapping something on his iPhone and seemed rather engrossed in it. His posh little boots had earth caked on the bottom of them. For the millionth time in the past three days, Eames found him striking. Fit. Gorgeous, even. Eames, who was unashamed to admit he'd fucked most of the gay or remotely bi-curious men in their profession, was already planning their post-coital philosophical debate. Arthur seemed like the type who would appreciate John Rawls.
"What do you think, Arthur?" Eames asked, interrupting whatever inane thing Cobb was about to say next.
Arthur glanced up from his iPhone and gave him an inscrutable look. "I don't care."
"You don't care?" Eames repeated.
In lieu of answering, Arthur rolled his eyes and turned back to his mobile, and Eames felt his eyebrows shoot up.
"You're the most unusual point man I've ever met, darling," said Eames, thinking of all the know-it-alls he'd spent the last few years working with. There was a particular point man from Yorkshire whose mere name gave him a splitting headache.
Arthur snorted. "I choose to take that as a compliment."
"As you should," Eames said pleasantly. He turned to Cobb. "Arthur doesn't care about US hegemony."
"Yeah," said Cobb, without looking vexed (although he was glaring squintily in Marte's general direction), "this isn't really Arthur's thing."
The thing about dreamsharing was it was the perfect place for those disillusioned with academia. Eames had once had a promising career as a teaching fellow before he'd found the entire thing tedious and had taken the road less travelled, so to speak. Marte had once been a professor of Chemistry at the University of Vaasa. There was Yi, who had been one of China's brightest, now an extractor; Esma, from the University of East Sarajevo; Kefilwe, Eames' ex, who'd only been an architect long enough to get money to pay for his third doctorate, and was now back to lecturing at the University of Pretoria; Yusuf, from the University of Zambia.
Cobb was something of an outlier. Although he had been teaching at one of the universities in California, there was a rumour or two that he'd killed his wife and left his kids behind in the States. Eames wouldn't have believed it if some projection in Cobb's dream hadn't tried to murder him with a broken wine glass.
"I'm bleeding from the neck," Eames had yelled, clutching his throat where the mad projection had jabbed him.
"I'm so sorry," Cobb had said. "She's not normally like this."
The projection, inexplicably wearing an evening dress, had launched herself at Eames again. This time, Eames had side-stepped her, slipping a little in the puddle of his own blood. He wasn't able to concentrate enough to dream up a gun and kick himself awake, not with a mad projection focused on cutting him into strips.
"If this was real life, I'd be so cross right now," Eames had said.
"Mal," Cobb had started, and Eames had interrupted with, "Are you seriously going to speak French at her? Oh, that'll do it. I'm saved."
Luckily, at that moment, Arthur had limped into the room. Although he had been bleeding from a gashing wound to his gut that made Eames sick to even look at, he'd taken one look at the projection and shot her in the head without hesitation.
Cobb had stared at her crumpled body, eyes wide.
"Dom, you're an asshole," Arthur had said, and then shot him too. He'd looked at Eames. "Are you okay?"
"Slowly bleeding to death, nothing to worry about," Eames had answered. He'd glanced pointedly at Arthur's gut. If he'd been Arthur and he'd been that injured, he would've kicked himself out of the dream. Arthur, on the other hand, had not only stayed, but had also saved them. "Wine glass?"
"Kitchen knife," Arthur had replied grimly.
Eames considered himself lucky Cobb had saved the theatrics for their practice run, but then dreamsharing was mostly theory and science, with a little bit of drama thrown in for excitement. It walked the line between legal and illegal; no one had ever officially been arrested for extracting, but Eames knew of several people who were in gaol on charges the authorities could make stick.
It also paid extremely well -- if you could get someone to teach you how to do it.
So after years in the game, Eames was well versed in seducing extractors, point men, architects, and chemists. Nothing about these people could surprise him. Mostly, they were highly-educated, over-achieving arseholes looking out for themselves. Himself included. It was a forger's job to know himself inside and out, and Eames was perfectly aware he'd spent the majority of his life crawling toward sociopathy. He'd have no trouble at all pulling a svelte, smooth-skinned, sloe-eyed thing like Arthur. A little poetry, some sweet nothings, a hearty intellectual debate full of innuendos...
Arthur may have been more attractive than the average thief, but in the end, he was just another doctorate-collecting, networking point man. It was Eames' living to understand what made up someone's character within a few meetings. Eames had known him for an entire four days now. What else was there more to find out?
Arthur, Eames had learned, was mostly pleasant, earnest, and dedicated to his job (or at least to Cobb), if a bit distant. He dressed in expensive clothing and had all the latest Apple gadgets; he wore Tom Ford cologne and had the cleanest nails Eames had ever seen. Yet at one point during a brainstorming session, a lock of fringe had fallen across his forehead -- possibly from the thick, heavy, Spanish humidity; Eames had popped into the barber's once he'd landed in Madrid and had all his hair shorn off in a fit of utter laziness -- and he hadn't bothered to smooth it back. He rolled his sleeves up to his elbows but still wore a waistcoat every day. He didn't appear to like talking about politics or himself. Eames had seen him roll his eyes at Cobb behind his back at least twice.
He was professional, but not unyielding. Young, but not inexperienced. Confident, but not smug. Eager to please, but not demanding attention.
"Arthur," Eames called, causing Arthur to glance up from the file he'd been reading, "how do you feel about English Romanticism?"
"How do you feel about shutting up?" Arthur asked.
"I'll take that as a 'nay,'" said Eames.
Thus, Eames flipped through his mental codex and chose a series of French poems by Pierre de Ronsard about fresh, young, optimistic love. He knew exactly how the words would sound falling from his lips, and how Arthur would react to the imagery and metaphors. He'd have him eating out of the palm of his hand by the end of the week.
"Hi, you've reached the voicemail of Arthur. I'm not able to get to my phone right now, but please leave a message, and I'll call you back as soon as I can. Thanks."
"You're so bland," Eames couldn't help but say. He realised as soon as he said it that it was not helping his chances, so he added, "Darling."
As he recited the de Ronsard from memory, he felt the familiar French vowels roll off his tongue. He let his voice go low and rough, as if this was for Arthur's ears only. He'd made men come from his voice alone; he could read the phone book and still have men begging for his touch. He could already see Arthur on the bed listening to his message, sliding a hand under those tight trousers, fisting his own cock, maybe slipping fingers between his legs and envisioning all the things Eames was going to do to him.
Later that afternoon, he watched as Arthur checked his voicemail in the middle of a team discussion. Arthur's brow furrowed, and then he threw a perplexed glance at Eames.
Eames threw him a seductive smirk in response.
Arthur scrunched up his face, and then he touched something on the screen and tucked his iPhone into his trouser pocket.
Well, Eames thought.
It didn't seem like Arthur was all that impressed. He'd just have to try harder. Perhaps something in Portuguese this time.
"Seriously, stop leaving me voicemails," Arthur said, three poems later. "I see you every day!"
It wasn't exactly rejection. But it was hardly encouraging. Eames had never had to work so hard to pull anyone before.
"Leave Arthur alone," Cobb told him. "He's not into... you know."
"Men?" Eames prodded, taken aback at the thought. Surely he hadn't read Arthur so wrongly?
Cobb snorted. "Poetry."
"Ah, so he prefers prose," Eames replied, scratching his chin.
"He prefers pictures," Cobb answered, a line forming between his brow.
"Oh, good God," said Cobb.
At the end of the job, as they packed up their gear and prepared to part, Eames made sure to shake Arthur's hand.
"It was a pleasure working with you, Arthur," he said, voice low, and out of the corner of his vision, Cobb rolled his eyes. "I hope to see you again soon."
Arthur's grip was firm. "Nice working with you, too."
"'The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again,'" Eames continued, still clutching Arthur's hand.
"Sure," said Arthur.
Marte made a disapproving sound. She was looking more sour than usual. "Vitun urpo. This isn't a dating service. Maybe if you two had focused on work as much as you'd focused on each other, someone--" And here she looked at Arthur pointedly. "--would've remembered not to turn his back on the mark and nearly ruin the job."
"Ha, ha," Eames replied dryly, but Arthur stiffened.
"I'm sorry," he started, "I didn't think--"
Marte's lip curled. "Clearly. Although I wouldn't expect someone who doesn't know the difference between local and general anesthesia to understand something as simple as keeping an eye on the mark at all times."
Eames felt a hot flash of anger on Arthur's behalf. Marte didn't know what she was on about. Arthur may have been a killjoy, but there was no question he was good at what he did; he'd put in more hours setting up this extraction than Marte had in her entire career. Everything had been in perfect order from the start, and Arthur had held back the projections whilst Eames and Cobb had gotten the information they'd been hired to find. There had been a slight slip up at the end, when Arthur had left Marte and the sleeping mark in one room whilst he'd gone to deal with projections in another, only to return and find Marte kicked awake and the mark leaning over Cobb's and Eames' still-slumbering forms. Luckily, the mark had thought he was awake and not merely in the first level of a dream, and Arthur had kept him distracted until they'd woken up completely.
If anyone had done anything wrong, it had been Cobb. At one point he'd disappeared, leaving Eames (forging the mark's PA) alone, only to come back minutes before their time was up, looking shaken. Cobb's sudden absence had made the mark suspicious, and Eames had to quickly come up with a work emergency to occupy him.
It was professional jealously, was what it was. Eames was disgusted.
"I get it, I messed up," Arthur replied, a look of annoyance crossing his face.
Cobb stepped between Marte and Arthur. "That's enough," he said gruffly, handing the PASIV off to Arthur. "We got the information we needed. Now let's get out of here."
"Next time, I don't want you to bring this kid along," Marte said viciously.
"I only work with Arthur," snapped Cobb. "Now get out of our way."
He left the hotel room, stepping round the mark's still-unconscious body, with Arthur at his heels. As he slipped out the door, Arthur glanced over his shoulder, and his dark eyes met Eames'. Just before as he'd been hit by a sudden rush of anger, now he was hit with something else -- regret, maybe, at not being able to talk Arthur into a tumble.
It was a funny kind of feeling.
"I can't believe Cobb puts up with that idiot," said Marte.
"Oh, shut up, you glorified science teacher," Eames said. "Go back to sniffing your pharmaceuticals."
"All I'm saying is, Habermas' communicative rationality and discourse ethics provide a better critique of the nature of power within society. Foucault relies too heavily on empirical evidence--"
"That's a complete misinterpretation of Foucault's work, and you know it, you Teutonic git," Eames cut in, walking into the hotel conference room they were using as headquarters.
"Is that Raasch?" Cobb asked. He appeared to be leaving, his coat draped over his arm.
Ignoring him, Eames asked, "Have you even read Recasting the Dialogue Between Genealogy and Critical Theory?"
There was a burst of static over the mobile line, and then Raasch scoffed, "Are you serious?"
"Dead serious, you piece of-- why are we having a row over this?" Eames demanded, biting back what he truly wanted to say to him. He blew out a frustrated breath through his nose. "Look, I rang to see if you'd gotten me an interview at the Border Agency. I need samples of hard copies in order to--"
"Yes, I'm aware," Raasch grumbled. "Interview's on Monday. But as I was saying, critical reflection--"
Before he could finish, Eames hung up, flipping his mobile shut with such violence he thought the screen might've cracked.
"Raasch has a point," said Cobb, lingering in the open doorway. "The problem with Foucault is--"
Eames closed the door in his face.
"Pretentious twats," Eames muttered, throwing the lock on the door. "I'd like to go one bloody day without someone showing me how intelligent they are."
"You okay?" Arthur asked.
"I hate everyone in this business," Eames replied, "but other than that, darling, things are going swimmingly."
He glanced over to find Arthur at the conference table he'd been using as a desk, much in the same position he'd seen him half a day ago.
"You haven't moved," he said rather stupidly.
"I have a lot of work to do," Arthur replied, waving a hand in the direction of the stacks of folders, books, and loose papers piled high on his table. An empty frappaccino cup rested by his elbow. He had two notebook computers running, in addition to one of his little moleskines held open under a paperweight. The piles were, though, looking smaller than they had that morning.
After his rejection the last time they'd seen each other, Eames had been prepared to give up getting Arthur into bed. He hated to admit it, but Arthur seemed impenetrable (pun intended). But something about seeing him here now, dedicatingly and painstakingly working away into the long hours, Eames felt a stirring of renewed interest, and this time it had nothing to do with Arthur's cupid bow lips or his pert arse.
Eames was, dare he say it, impressed. He'd never seen anyone other than the architects spending whole days on prep work; even Cobb had been ordering children's toys off of Amazon earlier rather than doing anything productive, waiting for Arthur to finish.
Arthur wheeled round to face him and leaned forward with his hands on his thighs. Eames tried not to blatantly stare at his lean, roped forearms. It was easy for him to imagine what those hands would look like on his cock, or how those long legs would feel wrapped round his waist. He wondered if Arthur would ever speak to him again if he told him he wanted to bite his knobby wrists.
"Do you want to do something fun?" Arthur asked seriously.
Eames had once known a point man whose idea of fun was editing Wikipedia. "Do I?"
Taking this as acquiescence, Arthur said, "Let's go see a movie."
"Pardon?" Eames asked.
"A movie," Arthur repeated. "There's a new Transformers out. It looks pretty cool."
"A new Transformers," Eames echoed in disbelief.
Usually when he was in a bad mood, he went and argued with people over the internet or made short films about the futility of finding happiness. He would never be able to admit seeing it, if he caved. What a pointless, trivial, mindless--
"Actually, that sound brilliant," Eames said, grabbing his jacket. "You're sure you have time for bunking off?"
"I always have time for movies about explosions," Arthur said, straight-faced. "In the trailers they blow up the Pyramids."
The movie was, indeed, dumb. But it shut off his brain for a few hours, and Eames felt-- well, he felt like he didn't have to put on a show of hating it in order to look good, because Arthur clearly liked it. Eames couldn't think of a single person off the top of his head who would watch an action film for a reason other than irony; this was the first movie he'd seen in years that he hadn't watched just so he could dissect it in a later debate, or saw just so he could say he did. It was oddly liberating.
As usual, Cobb and Arthur were staying at one hotel, and Eames at another, this one further down the road and a disappointingly far distance from the tube station. On the way back from the Odeon, they hit Arthur's hotel first.
"Do you want to come up for coffee?" Arthur asked as they lingered on the stoop.
Eames tucked his hands into his jacket pockets against the chilly night air, delighted at Arthur's sudden change in stance. He stepped close, right into Arthur's space, and noticed for the first time that Arthur's ears stuck out.
He was gorgeous. Eames was going to have so much fun taking him apart.
Oddly nervous, he reached out and straightened Arthur's collar. "'As soon go kindle fire with snow," he replied, brushing his thumb along the long, white line of Arthur's neck, "as seek to quench the fire of love with words.'"
"Okay, then, see you tomorrow," Arthur said, and then he walked into the hotel, leaving Eames alone and goggling at the swinging door.
"What just happened?" Eames asked.
Unfortunately, their new-found camaraderie only lasted a few days, and then it was back to their usual routine of Eames trying to get Arthur's attention and Arthur giving him blank, unamused looks.
"Do we really need to get Eames into the UK Border Agency if our real target's the Home Office?" Arthur demanded at their next brainstorming meeting. He had one of his moleskines out and was periodically scribbling something down.
"We do," Cobb replied. "Once we get the passport numbers, we can check them against border crossings."
Arthur pursed his lips. "It's a hell of a risk, breaking into two agencies."
"As much as it warms my heart to hear of your concern, I know what I'm doing," interrupted Eames. He swiveled his chair in Arthur's direction and smirked. "Nothing I haven't done before."
"I wasn't concerned about you," Arthur said with a scowl.
But Cobb had softened. "I know you feel more comfortable with extractions, but I can't turn down a job that pays this much."
"Just explain it to me again," said Arthur. "What does the Home Office do, exactly?"
"Relentless," Eames murmured. He hadn't been quizzed this persistently about anything since uni.
Arthur looked nonplussed.
Half a year later, Cobb hired Eames to help him incept Robert Fischer.
A week after that, Eames was sitting at his kitchen table and working on his novel when he heard the knob on the front door jiggle. Without looking away from the sentence he was currently agonising over, he picked his gun up and aimed at the open doorway. He waited.
Footsteps approached. Then:
"Arthur," he greeted, lowering the gun, "how wonderful of you to break into my flat."
It was, indeed, the lovely Arthur, standing in the space between the kitchen in the lounge in yet another one of his suits. He had a bag over one shoulder, and Eames wondered-- but no, surely Arthur wouldn't have--
"Are you smoking a pipe?" Arthur asked, dropping into the empty chair at Eames' table. He was already scowling. "I just saw you last week, how do you already have a full beard?"
Eames puffed on said pipe. "I'm a very hairy person." Arthur made a face. "Because I'm so manly," he added with a belated leer.
Arthur looked pointedly at Eames' typewriter, at his pipe, at his beard (which was actually sort of itching, but one made sacrifices for art), and then he glanced round the kitchen. "You do know it's 2010, right? I didn't go back in time when I walked in here?"
"There's no soul in using a computer," Eames replied. "I feel typewriters help the words flow more organically."
"Okay," Arthur said, drawing the word out. He drummed his fingers on the table. "Do you have any beer?"
"I do," said Eames. He puffed on his pipe some more. "Would you like one?"
Arthur glowered at him. "Can I please have a beer, Mr Eames?"
"‘May I,'" Eames corrected, but he got up and did it anyway, pulling two bottles of the local lager out of his fridge. Even in autumn, Mombasa was hot and humid, and his shirt stuck to his back. He was used to it, but out of the corner of his eye, Arthur stripped off his jacket and wiped a line of sweat off his temple with his pocket square. Eames grabbed him a bottle of water as well.
"Here you are, petal," Eames said, sitting back down.
He pushed the water and the lager in Arthur's direction, and Arthur snatched the water and twisted off the top, downing half of it in one go. They'd only seen each other a week ago, for an awkward goodbye in which Eames had attempted to give Arthur a friendly farewell hug and Arthur had tried to shake his hand, and they'd ended up in a kind of shuffle. But Eames was only human, and he couldn't help but stare at Arthur's lips wrapped round the top of the water bottle and the blatant relief on his face.
"How'd you know where I was?" he asked.
"I'm hot," Arthur said bluntly. "People tell me things."
He looked at Eames and raised his eyebrows, as if daring Eames to challenge him.
"You most certainly are," Eames replied, and Arthur snorted. "So tell me, did you come all this way for business or pleasure?"
"Business," said Arthur, and Eames felt a wave of disappointment course through him. "Cobb has a job offer."
Eames startled. That was surprising. "Have things gone to shit already?"
"Have you been keeping up with the news?"
"You know I have," Eames replied. "What does that have to do with Cobb?"
Arthur picked at the label of his beer. "Fischer hasn't moved to break up Fischer-Morrow."
"It's only been a week," Eames pointed out.
"Saito said he'd help Cobb no matter what the outcome of inception, but Cobb's worried that Saito might take everything back if it turns out we failed."
"And what does he want from me?"
"From us," Arthur corrected. He licked his lips, as if the thought that Eames wouldn't agree suddenly occurred to him. "He wants us to watch Fischer. Just because it's not in the news doesn't mean Fischer-Morrow isn't planning something."
Eames leaned back in his chair, considering. He'd been as chuffed as anyone else to see Cobb hadn't been arrested as they'd passed border control, but in the end, he'd been more happy to get away with his money, his sanity, and the knowledge of how to perform inception. Cobb, this job had taught him, was dangerous, and if Saito took back what he'd given Cobb would be back in the game, potentially destroying more minds.
"Cobb will pay you your usual fee and all your expenses," Arthur added.
Eames took a gulp of his lager. Condensation dripped down his hand. "I won't be able to work for Browning," he said. "James Henry failed to leave a two week notice, I'm sorry to say."
Arthur smirked. "Then we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way."
They were sharing a flat.
"We're sharing a flat?" he asked dumbly.
"Cobb thinks he's funny," Arthur said, pushing past him.
It was a nice flat, though small, with modern fixtures and tall windows. But it hadn't been their comfort Cobb had been thinking of when he'd hired it: Fischer's townhouse -- posh, massive, several million Australian dollars, overlooking Hyde Park -- was right down the street. He was only slightly disappointed to see theirs was a two bedroom.
After taking a quick shower to feel human again, Eames came back out to find Arthur was standing in the middle of the tiny lounge, staring at nothing in particular. He was still wearing his suit, although he'd removed his tie -- red with dark gold fleur-de-lis, which somehow didn't clash at all with his pinstripe waistcoat -- and had absently wrapped it round his hand.
"Alright there?" Eames asked, eyebrows raising.
Arthur startled. He turned and blinked a few times, as if he was trying to remember where he was. "Uh, yeah, sorry. It was a long flight. I'm falling asleep standing up."
Eames would've been more concerned -- and he was, of course, concerned, largely because past experience had taught him that Arthur tended to get sullen when he was tired, and he was in no mood for a fight -- had it not been for the big, beautiful telly he suddenly noticed tucked into the corner of the lounge, facing the couch. He flopped down onto the couch and hunted for the remote control. This almost made up for Cobb nearly sending them to limbo.
"Why don't you take a nap," he suggested absently.
"I need to get acclimated," Arthur protested from behind him.
Finally, Eames noticed the remote resting on the coffee table. "Eureka," he called, snatching it up.
The couch dipped as Arthur, much to his surprise, took a seat next to him. He flipped through the channels until he saw something familiar: Lord of the Rings.
"Brilliant," he murmured, propping his feet up on the coffee table. "And it's just started."
Arthur wrinkled his nose in a way Eames couldn't help but find charming. "Isn't there anything else on? Maybe something that isn't three hours of fantasy?"
"You don't like Lord of the Rings?" Eames asked, surprised. "Who doesn't like Lord of the Rings?"
"For one thing, there are so many characters." He slumped against the back of the couch, mouth curling into a moue. "I like a movie about scruffy bearded men as much as the next homo, but I also like to know what's going on. And, come on, a magical ring that can destroy the world?"
He gave Eames one of his patented condescending looks, and Eames shook his head.
"No imagination," he scoffed as he handed the remote over.
"Cobb really likes it," Arthur continued, flipping through the channels, "but Cobb loves melodrama."
"I never would've guessed," said Eames.
Arthur let out a sound that was a cross between a laugh and a snort, and Eames couldn't help but chuckle along side him. Up until Arthur finally found what he wanted to watch, which turned out to be a beastly reality show with people screaming obscenities at one another.
"This show's so funny," he said, as Eames squinted at the screen in disbelief.
Living with Arthur was both everything and nothing like Eames would have expected. "Living with" in the loosest sense of the word, of course. It was just a job, after all; an unusual job far below Eames' skill level, but a job nonetheless. Perhaps the best way to put it was "temporarily sharing a living space whilst sleeping in separate bedrooms (subject to change)."
Arthur went to bed by ten every night and was up long before Eames rolled out of bed at half nine every morning. He ate Cheerios for dinner and slept in red pajama bottoms and a soft-looking t-shirt supporting the local baseball team of some godforsaken tiny American town, but he wouldn't dare step outside in sweats. When he wasn't working, he was reading issues of fashion magazines and watching telly, or surfing the internet and watching yet more telly. If Eames had to watch one more sodding episode of some teen drama about a glee society, he was going to murder someone. He'd even found himself humming one of the songs one day whilst tailing Fischer to the market, and he'd wanted to bash his head in.
Arthur didn't speak much.
"Sorry," he said on their third day together, "I'm not used to living with someone."
He was watching something called Say Yes to the Dress and playing Angry Birds on his MacBook Air. Eames, on the other hand, was re-reading Foucault's Pendulum, but he was really thinking about where he could find a metal rangefinder field camera in Sydney. They should have been planning where to place the cameras they'd bought to watch Fischer's door, but Eames suspected Arthur had jet lag, and if Arthur wanted to take a break, Eames was going to take advantage.
Their socked feet were almost touching, propped up side-by-side on the coffee table.
"It's fine," Eames said. He stretched, shaking out the crick in his neck. "I'll tell you a secret."
Arthur's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he looked intrigued. "What?"
"I realise you may find me debonair, but the truth is, I'm actually quite boring."
A smile tugged the corner of Arthur's mouth, and a hint of a dimple appeared. "Is that so."
"It is," Eames answered truthfully. He gestured to his book. "This is what I do at home when I'm not off being James Bond's evil twin."
"You're so full of shit," Arthur said, but he was fully smiling now, gorgeous and dimpled. Eames wanted to do all sorts of filthy things to him. "Did you bring an entire suitcase full of books, or what?"
"I did, in fact, bring an entire suitcase full of books." It was partially true, but Arthur, unfortunately, didn't look impressed. "‘You can't get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.'"
"Where are your clothes?"
"You can buy new clothes," Eames pointed out.
"You can buy new books," said Arthur.
"They hold sentimental value. Clothes are meaningless. You wear them for a few years, and then you bin them."
"'A few years'? You and I are so different," Arthur echoed. He looked back at his laptop, and the mood shifted. Eames' smile faded. "Dammit, I lost again. Angry Birds is so hard. Fucking pigs!"
Sometime during their first week, Arthur was eating breakfast when Eames forced himself out of bed and into the kitchen. He was reading emails and daintily breaking off tiny bits of toast and putting them in his mouth one by one. When Eames stumbled in, still feeling half-asleep, Arthur stared at him.
"What?" Eames asked blurrily, scraping a hand over his face.
"You couldn't've put clothes on first?" Arthur asked.
Eames looked down at himself. He was wearing track suit bottoms and one sock. Smirking at Arthur's prudishness, he slumped into the other empty chair at the table and loudly scratched his belly. It wasn't sexy, but it seemed to have its desired effect of annoying Arthur, who rolled his eyes and turned back to his computer.
"No breakfast for me, sweetheart?" he purred. "I'm crushed."
"Sorry," Arthur replied, his tongue darting out to lick a crumb off the corner of his mouth, "I mistook you for an adult."
Whilst Arthur continued to nibble away at his toast, Eames dug up some more brown bread and a can of beans. God bless the former colonies, he thought, as he flipped on the kettle. Normally, at home, Eames baked his own bread and made his own yogurt, but he made do on jobs. He also grew his own organic tomatoes and courgettes on the veranda.
Arthur didn't look up as Eames busied himself, but when Eames set a cup of tea in front of him, he blinked. "Thanks."
"My pleasure," Eames replied.
He was finishing the meal with Arthur broke the silence: "Do you know where to get guns in Australia?"
"The gun shop?" Eames replied, unsure where this was going.
Arthur's forehead creased. "Are you being sarcastic?"
A spark of annoyance flickered in Eames. "Are you?" he shot back. "Despite what you may think, I don't immediately make acquaintances with the shady underbelly of every city I step foot in."
He wasn't sure why it bothered him, but it did. Especially when Arthur asked so frankly, as if that was all he saw Eames as -- a means to an end.
"I'm more than just a thief," he added. He punctuated this statement by slamming his cup on the table and crossing his arms over his chest.
But Arthur just looked at him like he was insane. "I'm asking you because you usually know everything. I'll just go Google it. Christ."
"Oh," said Eames to himself once he was alone in the kitchen.
Tailing Fischer was turning out to be one of the least interesting jobs Eames had ever had. Thus far, he'd followed Fischer to the chemist, a chic cafe, and, oddly, the aquarium, where he'd stood before the cuttlefish and cried (whilst Eames had lingered uncomfortably in front of the adjacent tank). Arthur was working on tapping Fischer's mobile and land line; his building had heavy security, and it was proving difficult to get inside. Arthur had already attempted to bribe the door man once, and he'd been turned down.
In a week, Fischer only went to the Fischer-Morrow offices twice.
"What, exactly, holds Arthur's interest?" Eames murmured into his mobile, watching Fischer buying fruit at the Glebe Market.
"I thought this was a work call," said Cobb. "Don't you have any other friends?"
"I can't figure him out," Eames continued, ignoring Cobb's dig. "None of my usual methods are working."
"Do your ‘usual methods' involve teasing and poking?"
"Oh, I'd love to be poking him, if you catch my meaning," Eames said. There was no response from Cobb. "I mean I'd like to put my cock in--"
"I get it," Cobb interrupted loudly.
Fischer stopped to buy avocados, and Eames slowed his walk. He pretended to look at a display of bric-a-brac. One of the theatre masks on display would have looked brilliant in his bedroom, but he wasn't here for personal shopping. "It's as if he's immune to handsomeness."
Cobb made a choking sound. "Maybe you should shake things up. Try something different, something new."
Eames frowned at nothing in particular. Fischer, meanwhile, was haggling with the avocado woman. "Such as?" he asked.
"Why don't you just ask him out?"
Eames remembered that terrible, blank look Arthur had given him all the times Eames had tried to flirt with him when they'd first met. He would rather have Arthur turn on him with that irritated expression from when he'd kicked his chair to demonstrate a kick or that sly grin from the hotel room floor as they plugged into the PASIV than experience that again. He knew that made him a coward, but he was fine with that.
At Eames' silence, Cobb sighed. "How about you just talk to him? I know Arthur pretty well, and I hate to disappoint you, but he's actually a normal person underneath all that hair gel."
"I am trying to talk to him," Eames protested. "He's quite difficult to read."
"Please," said Cobb. "Everything you say is to either rile him up or impress him."
"That is mostly a lie!" Eames protested.
The woman behind the till looked at him in surprise at his outburst, and he smiled winningly at her and turned away, following Fischer to a stall selling bronze Buddha statues.
There were moments, however, when this seemed like the best job ever.
Eames parked his hire car far enough from Fischer's not to be noticed, but not so far he couldn't see what was going on. Currently, Fischer was changing into his swimming costume in the back seat of his million dollar (Australian) car. He seemed to be having a difficult job, Eames noted, as a pale arse cheek pressed against the window.
He took out his mobile and dialed Arthur.
"Fischer's spending the day at Bondi Beach," Eames drawled, before Arthur could even say hello.
There was a pause as Arthur deciphered his meaning, and then Arthur said, "Hell yes. I'll be there in twenty. I'll bring the pool noodles."
"What're you doing?"
Eames stood in the kitchen and watched Arthur twist and turn like an angry cat, his face scrunched up in concentration. He was shirtless, and Eames tried very hard not to openly stare at the freckles on his collar bone or the dip of his waist.
"Trying to put on aloe," Arthur grumbled, clearly frustrated. "I'm sunburned. Someone dunked me in the ocean before my sunblock was finished drying."
In the dim light of the kitchen, where the only light was the evening sun streaming through the window, it was difficult to tell. But when Eames touched him he was warm. He cupped Arthur's shoulder, and Arthur hissed, twisting away. Up close, Eames could make out a faint red hue on his normally fair skin; it stretched out over his shoulders and swooped down his back. His face was burned, too, as well as his upper chest.
"You should've put on more," Eames said, taking the bottle out of Arthur's hands.
"I had to show you who was the dunking master," Arthur deadpanned.
Eames rolled his eyes at that, but he did vaguely recall Arthur putting on more sunblock after they'd staggered back to the beach, soaked, exhausted, and laughing.
He uncapped the aloe and squirted some onto his fingers. It was cold, and Arthur yelped when Eames put his hands on him, rubbing it onto his burned back. The skin of Arthur's torso was softer than that of his hands, which were well-manicured but still rough; he moved to the burns on his chest next, and Arthur's breath hitched, but he didn't seem startled this time. For once, Eames didn't smell Arthur's cologne, just Arthur and the salty tang of the ocean. He thought he liked this better.
"I'm going to put it on your face," Eames warned him, and Arthur said, "Okay."
He dabbed some on Arthur's nose first, and then he cupped Arthur's cheeks and rubbed on aloe with his thumbs. Arthur's eyes slid shut.
"You should take some paracetamol," Eames said, stroking a thumb across Arthur's cheekbone.
"Some what?" Arthur asked, without opening his eyes.
"Painkillers," Eames explained. "I don't know what the Aussie brand is."
"Do Australians not have Tylenol?"
Arthur's nose wrinkled when Eames applied the same treatment to his chest, as if it pained him, and Eames asked, "If you could meet anyone from any point in history, who would it be?"
"I don't know," Arthur replied. His eyes were still closed, and now he was frowning a little. "David Beckham."
"You like football?"
Arthur cracked open one eye. "I like David Beckham."
At that moment, some ghastly pop song began playing from the next room, and both Arthur's eyes snapped open. A line was starting to form between his brows. "That's Cobb's ring tone," he said, sounding unhappy.
He was thoroughly covered in aloe now, and Eames gave him one last inspection, sweeping his eyes over Arthur's strong, sloping shoulders. "How's that feel?" he asked.
"Better." Arthur looked at him contemplatively. "Thanks. That was... thanks. Do you always rub aloe on your co-workers?"
"Only the ones I like," answered Eames.
"Huh," said Arthur.
It was a little too thoughtful for Eames' liking, and he stepped back, rubbing the excess aloe on his own hands.
"I should answer that," Arthur said as his mobile rang yet again. "What're you doing tonight?"
"Following Fischer to the opera," Eames replied with a put-upon sigh. "I once worked a job in which the mark did all his business transactions in his box seats. Unfortunately, Fischer's going to see Dido and Aeneas, which everyone knows is the world's most boring opera. I shall try not to fall asleep."
"Right," Arthur said, still looking pensive. And then: "Oh my God, Cobb, I'm coming. Chill out."
These were the things Eames knew about Arthur: Enjoyed terrible television and movies, was mind-numbingly gorgeous, read a lot of magazines, hummed to himself when he thought he was alone, liked quiet, dressed like a ponce, was surprisingly charming. He was from New York, had two sisters, and his favourite season was autumn. He wanted to fool Cobb into buying his kids a dog so he could visit and play with it. He had a lovely smile.
Eames liked him. Eames didn't like most people. If he was being honest with himself (and he always was), he hadn't even liked the men he'd dated in the past. Kefilwe, for one, had been a right git, and Eames had been with him for nearly two years, up until they had grown sick of each other. A love of Proust was not a strong foundation on which to build a relationship, it had turned out.
He didn't know many people like Arthur, sincere and utterly unpretentious. When he thought about the way Arthur mentored Ariadne, and how he stuck with Cobb during Cobb's obvious downward spiral, he couldn't believe that he'd been taken in by his posh suits, slicked-back hair, and good posture, believing him to be as pompous as the rest of their profession.
Fischer continued to enjoy his holiday, or whatever it was he was doing, and Eames continued to follow him round Sydney. Arthur finally managed to get Fischer's phones bugged, although it appeared to be fruitless; Fischer took calls from Fischer-Morrow (though none of them gave any indication he was planning on splitting up the company), his godfather (which gave Eames a strange feeling to listen to), and his therapist (which was just awkward). They had a lot of minutes of Fischer simply crying.
To make matters worse, Fischer had cancelled all of his in-person appointments with his therapist since the inception, so they couldn't rely on stolen records to tell them what Fischer was thinking. Although, to be fair, his phone calls to Dr Malik never consisted of more words than "daddy" and "why."
"This is just embarrassing," Arthur said during yet another of Fischer's crying sessions.
It was truly beginning to look like inception had failed.
"I told you it wouldn't work," Arthur was telling Cobb whilst pacing the kitchen. "I'm working on getting myself hired a temp in Browning's office. I talked to his current administrative assistant yesterday, and her price isn't unreasonable."
Since they weren't in the same room, Eames made no pretense of pretending not to listen to his conversation. He turned down the sound of the latest recording of Fischer sobbing and leaned his ear in Arthur's general direction.
"I don't know. You know Eames. He's always weird. Yesterday he talked for hours about German paintings, or something."
Eames was offended. It had been paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, and he'd been attempting to engage Arthur in a debate about Baroque art.
He was almost relieved the afternoon of their ninth day when Arthur announced, "Come on, we're going to get some guns."
"Are we in danger?" Eames asked, although to be honest, he was surprised Arthur had waited so long.
Arthur arched a brow at him. "Not that I'm aware of, but you never know."
He was less happy to see this meant waiting round in a car park for a better part of the afternoon to buy hand guns off a man named Robbo, whom Arthur insisted was a friend of a friend of an acquaintance, although Eames suspected he was actually someone Arthur met in a pub. Sitting round in the car all day was excruciating, especially when Eames could be making better use of his time. Or at least sitting on a more comfortable surface.
"Do you want a book?" Eames asked the fifth time Arthur popped his neck. "I brought two."
"Sure, why not," Arthur said.
Eames held both books up to show him. "I've Fulcher of Chartres and Boccaccio. Just some old favourites, you know."
Arthur made a face. "Which one's the easiest?"
"They're both in translation," said Eames. "Unfortunately. It was all I could find on short notice. Can you read Latin?"
He never would've picked Latin as being one of Arthur's languages. No wonder he hadn't responded to the poetry. Eames should've tried Ovid.
"No," Arthur replied, looking amused. "Do you?"
"Voluptas," Eames began, leaning over so he was in Arthur's space, close enough to see the slight shift in his expression as he continued: "Omnia vincit amor; et nos cedamus amori."
Arthur stared at him for a long moment, eyes wider than usual.
"I have an idea," he said finally. "Instead of reading, let's make out."
"That was easy," said Eames, but Arthur was already unbuckling his seat belt.
"We can finish what you started in the kitchen."
"The kitchen?" Eames repeated, confused. "You mean the day with the aloe?"
"You sound really sexy when you speak in other languages," Arthur said, moving to kiss him. Eames stopped him with a hand on his chest. His firm, lean chest. Eames was mental for wanting to know this now, but--
"You didn't like it when I read you those poems," he said. "I saw you, you deleted the voicemails immediately."
"Is that what those were?" Arthur asked. He put a warm hand on Eames' thigh and gave him a smouldering look that quite definitely stirred some interest in Eames' trousers. "It was all Greek to me."
"That last one was in Greek," Eames replied.
Arthur smouldered some more. He caught Arthur's slender wrist before his hand moved any higher. I've gone round the bend, he thought.
"How could I seduce you with romantic poetry without using poetry?"
Now Arthur was beginning to look annoyed. He withdrew his hand. "You really want to talk about this now?"
"No. Yes. No. Yes!"
Arthur laughed. "You're so weird. Good thing I like weird."
He kissed Eames then, gently, and Eames grabbed him by the collar and pulled him in until Arthur was practically straddling him. Eames kissed him until it turned hard and wet, their breaths mingling and their tongues sliding together. Arthur nipped Eames' lip, which made Eames growl, and he angled Arthur's head so he could kiss him deeper, running his tongue along the roof of Arthur's mouth. He couldn't slow down; he'd wanted Arthur for so long, and now that he could have him -- and not just have him, but have him -- it was as terrifying as it was exhilarating. Arthur's hands were moving down Eames' sides, and Eames slid one hand down Arthur's long, long back, and he was going to--
A car horn honked. Eames nearly had a heart attack right then and there.
"Holy balls," Arthur said, wrenching back, as Eames exclaimed, "Christ on a fucking bike."
Arthur twisted back round to see what was happening. "I think it's Robbo."
"There goes my erection," Eames sighed.
"Save it for later," Arthur said, but his eyes flickered down to Eames' lap, and Eames counted that as a victory.
But there wasn't a later, because Robbo turned out to be a shit negotiator, and possibly a drug addict, and when Arthur tried to haggle with him -- "I'm not paying that for four Hi-Points, are you fucking kidding me?" -- he decided to simply kill them and take their money. Eames found himself in a place he hated, hiding behind a car and hastily assembling a pistol from various parts he'd grabbed out of the boot, whilst Arthur, the crazy fuck, crawled to their hire car, narrowly avoiding the bullets whizzing overhead.
In the end, Arthur ran right over Robbo with the car, which was fortunate because Eames had taken two mis-matching gun parts and Robbo's aim was getting increasingly better. Eames threw himself in the passenger seat, and Arthur pulled into reverse, spun the car round, and got them out of the car park as smoothly as if they were in a dream.
"Cheers," Eames said as the adrenaline pumping through his veins began to fade. He recalled one of the rumours he'd heard about Arthur that he'd once passed off as blatantly untrue. "Did you ever, by chance, kill sixteen projections with a fork?"
"I was about of bullets," Arthur grunted.
When they got back to the flat, Arthur announced, "I'm going to take a shower," walking away and loosening his tie before Eames could suggest they share.
Intellectually, he knew this was not an ideal time, but the memory of the heat of Arthur's mouth and the tightness of his trousers said otherwise. He wanted to follow Arthur in there and push him up against the wet tile, sucking kisses onto his chest which was still pink from the sun. He wanted to drag his rough cheek against the line of Arthur's jaw, to wrap Arthur's leg round him and rut against his hip until he came, and then to suck him until Arthur's knees gave out. Maybe then he would finger Arthur until Arthur couldn't stand it, and Eames would help lower him onto his cock. Or perhaps he'd lick into Arthur until he came again, all over the shower wall.
The shower was still running. Eames stayed where he was.
Horny and bitter, Eames eventually sat down on the couch. He flicked the telly onto the news and was waiting for his hard on to die down when his mobile vibrated.
Unknown caller, it said.
"Hello," he said gruffly.
"What's up, lad?"
"Yusuf," Eames greeted, some of his foul mood evaporating. "Lovely to hear from you."
"You got a parcel."
"You rang to tell me that?" Eames asked.
"Well, it's a rather large parcel. Can I open it?"
He tried to remember what he'd ordered. It was either weapons from Russia, the parts hidden inside teddy bears, or a new digital sound system for his flat. "Why not."
"Eames," Arthur called from the kitchen, "where'd you put the extra towels?"
"In the cupboard," Eames shouted back.
"Who was that?" demanded Yusuf. "I thought you were working? Eames, you dog."
"I am working, and it's Arthur."
"Arthur, what," Yusuf said, snorting. "So it's just the two of you? How tedious. You must be so bored."
Eames stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"I'm sorry, but he's just so vapid. He's excellent at his job, but there's not much else to him."
"He's not like that," Eames said defensively. "He's-- he's lovely, actually--"
"Oh, Eames," Yusuf said, but he didn't sound sympathetic in the least, "blinded by a pretty face."
"You don't know what you're on about," Eames snapped.
And suddenly, everything that had been puzzling him about Arthur fell into place. The rumour of Arthur being Cobb's hired muscle. The way Arthur never took part in intellectual conversations. How he asked Eames a million stupid questions. His love of objectively terrible shows and films, and his dislike of anything he perceived as complicated. His now blatant confusion over Eames' romantic voicemails and quotes. The way he grilled them over and over during the planning stages of each job with that slightly confused look on his face, writing everything down. All the times he'd heard someone call Arthur stupid and thought it was just jealousy.
Arthur didn't read books. Arthur didn't speak a single language other than his mother tongue. Arthur worked twice has hard as everyone else in the business.
Arthur hadn't been disinterested from the start. Arthur was thick.
Thoughtful, Eames scratched his stubbled cheek. "I'm going to need a new seduction method."
"What?" asked Yusuf.
The shower was still running when Eames hung up. All of Arthur's things were scattered over the coffee table, and Eames wanted, needed, something to confirm his theory. Because if it turned out that Arthur had just been unable to understand what Eames was up to (and had not been, as part of Eames had secretly feared, wondering why someone like Eames thought he could pull someone like him), then perhaps that kiss in the car park wasn't just a one-off. Perhaps this was yet another way Eames had failed to understand him. Perhaps Arthur fancied him.
Also, Arthur always beat him at Scrabble, and that just stung.
One of those bloody moleskines was tucked halfway under Arthur's laptop, and he hastily pulled it out. He flipped it open to a random page. Being a burgeoning sociopath, he didn't typically feel emotions like guilt, but he did experience a twinge of something as he read, THINGS TO WIKIPEDIA LATER, scrawled in Arthur's neat hand.
"Oh, Arthur," he murmured affectionately.
The shower stopped. Eames shoved the notebook back where he'd found it. He tried to look casual when Arthur padded through the lounge and into the kitchen, towel-drying his hair. Eames heard the sound of the cupboard opening, and he knew he had to get to Arthur before the Cheerios came out.
"I fancy you," he said, bursting into the kitchen.
Arthur was about to pour the milk into his bowl. He glanced up at Eames and raised his eyebrows before carefully setting the carton back on the counter. "I like you, too," he said, in a tone that indicated he thought Eames was daft. "I don't know what you've heard about me, but I don't make out with guys I don't like."
"Why would I have heard something to the contrary?" Eames asked, frowning.
"There're a lot of gossips in dreamsharing," Arthur said, which both did and didn't answer his question. "As a whole, it's a pretty patronising and nosy group. Cobb was the only person who didn't talk down to me. And you," he added, smiling slightly, "although it took me a while to realise you weren't just being a dick."
"I wasn't," Eames replied. "I was attempting to flirt with you."
"I realised that the other day. I didn't think you were interested," Arthur continued, suddenly looking sheepish, "since you turned me down."
Eames goggled. His mind raced as he immediately tried to remember when the bloody fuck this had happened. "I turned you down?"
Arthur looked confused. "In London. After we saw Transformers, and I asked if you wanted to come up for coffee."
"I said yes!"
"You said something about snow and fire," Arthur shot back.
"It was a quote from Shakespeare. It was a yes. A most emphatic yes." Exasperated, Eames ran a hand through his hair. He laughed a little hysterically. "I can't believe I've spent a year cockblocking myself. This is mad."
Arthur looked stricken. "We may be too stupid for this."
Eames' insides were twisted up at the knowledge that not only could he have had Arthur from the start, but also that Arthur had spent all this time thinking he was he one who'd been rejected. Everything had gone wrong since the first time they'd met. If Eames had realised sooner that Arthur wasn't getting it, if he hadn't been so consumed by the idea that Arthur was just like everyone else, maybe...
Yet if he had, he wouldn't be here right now. He wouldn't know Arthur at all, really; a forger couldn't lie to himself, and Eames knew without a doubt had he known Arthur wasn't, well, clever, he wouldn't have bothered. Or -- and he wasn't sure which was worse, really -- he would've fucked Arthur and lost interest in him, as he'd done to many other unclever people. He never would've known what kind of person Arthur was, and he never would've felt like this.
He fancied Arthur, and Arthur fancied him, and it would be alright because Eames was smart enough for the both of them.
He was showing Arthur how savvy he really was -- with tongue -- when Arthur broke away. "Are they talking about Fischer?" Arthur asked, as Eames nuzzled his ear, his hair, the nape of his neck.
Eames had forgotten the telly was even on; he couldn't believe he even remembered his own name when he had an armful of Arthur. He became aware, suddenly, of the sound of the news drifting into the kitchen:
"Energy mogul Robert Fischer, heir to his father's massive energy conglomerate, shocked the business world today with his announcement that he is breaking up the Fischer-Morrow corporation."
"What the hell?" exclaimed Arthur, jerking back. His eyes narrowed. "Fischer."
"It worked," Eames said, dumbfounded. "The inception worked."
Relief swept across Arthur's face and then coalesced into a grin. He looked at Eames the way he'd looked at Cobb on the plane, as if he couldn't believe they'd done it. "‘Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, that I can tell you."
Eames frowned. "Dante?"
"Ghostbusters," Arthur replied seriously.
It took Eames a moment to register Arthur wasn't joking, and then he racked his brain for a suitable witty rejoinder.
"I ain't afraid o' no projections," he said.
It was an amazing line. A perfect line. He was brilliant. He could do this; he could stoop to Arthur's intelligence level and still succeed. He could--
"That was terrible," Arthur said, but kissed him anyway.