A year ago, before the Inception job, Eames would have said to anyone asking that in the Cobb-Arthur partnership, Arthur --stick-in-the-mud and point man extraordinaire-- was the one anchoring them to reality. Arthur was the one that balanced Cobb's craziness and determination to go back home no matter what the cost, the one who made them stay in reality and prevented them from losing themselves in the nightmare the dream world could become if you weren't careful enough.
Eames would have been right in his assumptions at the time. Cobb was unstable, to say the least. He would have probably ended up lost in dreams or just plain dead if Arthur hadn't been there.
What Eames wouldn't have guessed was that in some way Cobb had balanced Arthur too. Being there for Cobb, taking care of him, being the reasonable one where Cobb was the perpetual dreamer, had put strings on Arthur more self-destructive nature.
Now, for the first time since Eames met Arthur, he's worried about him.
And he isn't the only one.
Have you heard from him? I'm worried, really worried. He hasn't answered any of my messages, but that's not unusual. We didn't part on the best of terms, but he usually lets me know about his whereabouts every couple of few months.
Eames... I lost his father to dreams; I don't want to lose him too. Just... Look out for him, please.
Dr. Helena Baulmer, cathedratic in oniric engineering
Center for Sleep Research
Semel Institute for Neurosciece & Human Behaviour
UCLA Department of Psychiatry
Eames can't begin to imagine how Arthur's mother must feel. The guilt that woman carries is something he wouldn't wish to anyone. Well... maybe to some of his old and more vicious acquaintances.
SIX MONTHS LATER
Three pairs of eyes open slowly, their vision is blurry. One of the men, a young man in his early thirties or perhaps late twenties –difficult to tell with his boyish face and a the three-piece suits he wears – sits upright on the armchair where he was laying, his body tense and his eyes peering intensely around him.
The room where they are is a very simple one: two armchairs, one double bed and a small table.
He sees three bodies, two awake and one still unconscious on the bed next to him. The two that are awake: a man in his forties and a young woman, are looking blankly at the ceiling. The body still unconscious is that of a middle aged man wearing a dark suit. The mark he thinks, even if he doesn't know what that means. All four of them are connected to a small device resting on the table.
He looks at his left wrist, there's a cannula inserted into it.
Well, fuck..., he thinks, and automatically checks his right pocket. There it is what seems like a small die. He grabs it and feels its weight, form and the small star on the middle dot of the five. He doesn't know why but a part of him relaxes, whatever the die means, it's all right.
That same part of him, the part that has made him look around and check the die questions him where am I? How did I arrive here?.
He doesn't know, he doesn't remember.
Remember... What is the last thing I remember? he asks himself again. A flash of the sun high in the sky and an empty desert horizon come to his mind but nothing more.
That's not good; in general he supposes that not being able to remember anything isn't a very good sign at all. Well then, don't think, just act. Let you body guide you. Deep down you know what to do
He removes the cannula from his wrist, rises from his seat and goes on the process of unhooking the room's other occupants. It feels like something he's done thousands of times before.
Maybe because it's simply the truth, he thinks while checking the pulse of the other occupants. Three steady pulses, two pairs of empty eyes. He doesn't know what frightens him more, the blank looks or his lack of memory.
Come on, come on... I need to get out of here now he tells himself, and efficiently packs the unknown device on its case and this one, inside a nice leather bag he finds next his armchair.
With one last look at the room, he leaves cautiously and goes to the lift where he observes his reflection in the mirror. It's unsettling looking at yourself without recognition.
He is young, no more than early thirties. He looks down at himself, at his stripped grey three-pieces suit, and the elegant brown coat that was hanging on the armchair where he had woken up previously. And the hat... he even has a hat! Well, he supposes it's his because his hand moved to reach it automatically when he was going out of the.
Fuck it... he thinks. Maybe the clothes go with the job, but he really is not sure he wants to know what kind of job leaves you with no memory or in near a vegetative state.
He puts the hat on his head, looking one more time at his reflection, trying desperately to not look as confused and lost as he's feeling, and finally when the lift's door opens he gets out. He leaves the building and starts walking down the street, saving a paper he has just scrawled on into one of his pockets.
It doesn't matter if he is going the right way or not, it's not like he knows where he is supposed to go. After fifteen minutes walking, he realizes several things. One, that is too early in the morning to be walking down the street with no destination, it's fucking cold! he thinks. And two, wherever he is, it's definitely not home. He's only crossed a few other pedestrians in his path, but it's more that enough to notice they don't speak the same language as him.
He's about to cross a street when a cab appears on the corner. He flags it before he realizes what he is doing.
Great, and where I'm supposed to tell the driver to take me? he thinks as he waits for the cab to stop. He wonders if he even has any money on him, and he feels like smacking himself on the head. How can be so dumb to not check his wallet?
He gets into the cab while searching his pockets, looking for a wallet, documentation, anything that can help him answer a question as simple as where to?.
"Hello... Just moment please, I'm looking for..." he says to the driver, hoping the man might understand him.
"Aah... not from here, eh? Business or tourism? And take your time, there is no rush," the driver says with a strong accent he can't pinpoint, switching the For Hire light on. Of course he is in no hurry; the more he waits, the more he earns.
Finally he finds a black leather wallet and a plastic card in the inside pocket of his jacket. He extracts both items and breathes out, releasing some of the tension he has been holding at the sight of a hotel key card.
"Sorry, I didn't remember the name of my hotel. Yasmine Hotel, it's..." he says looking at the card for an address.
"Ahh, I know where it is, near Wenceslas Square. Nice place you got. Very modern," the driver interrupts him, and starts the car driving away.
On the way to the hotel he checks his wallet, but soon enough it's clear that it's not going to be of any help. There's a full set of documentation: passport, ID, driving license, credit cards and the likes. It says his name is Atticus Finch, an American financial lawyer from Alabama He might not remember who he is, but he doesn't feel like an Atticus at all.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it comes to his mind when he murmurs the name.
This is seriously fucked... Am I some kind of spy or something as fucked up as that? he wonders, still checking the insides of his wallet. There are several money notes of different currencies, which it does nothing to erase the idea that he is a secret agent or some other legal-aside specialist. Because he's sure that whatever he is, he is damn good at it. A green 100-euro note, two GBP 50-notes, three Grants, and several 1000-notes that he doesn't recognise.
Korun Cesky he can reads on them. At lest now he knows where he is. Czech Republic, Prague if he is not mistaken, seeing how his hotel is near Wenceslas Square, which now that he thinks about it he remembers it's actually in Prague.
Well, it's good to know that even if I don't remember anything about me, at least my knowledge of geography seems to be intact he thinks trying to relax for the rest of the ride. Any further inspection of his possessions is going to take place in the privacy of his room.
Less that twenty minutes later the cab stops and he can see the entrance of the hotel. He pays he driver generously, the man has been helpful enough and hasn't tried to engage him in nonsense conversation.
He crosses the hotel lobby not really looking around, nodding at the receptionist when she welcomes him with a polite "Good morning Mr. Finch."
His room is on the third floor, a nice double room decorated in soft browns and sharp grey, a bedroom with a double bed, black tiled bathroom and an elegant living room at the entrance. He quite likes it, and frankly it goes frankly well with his appearance.
He takes off the hat and the coat, and leaves it all in the living room, along with the heavy bag he's been carrying around.
His hand goes automatically to the pocket where the small die is. He takes it out, observing it carefully: a small red plastic die, the middle five dot shaped like a little star, and judging by the weight it seems is clearly loaded.
He lets it fall down an waits expectantly. One's upward. He grabs it and rolls it again, but this time on the bedroom's way. He walks to the die and sees how it lands, the one on top again.
Third time's the charm he thinks, and when he ducks to grab it, he realizes his hands are shaking lightly. He stops dead at the bedroom door as he looks at the die rolling for a third time. When it finally stops with the one dot upward he goes in, and holds onto it as if his whole life depended on that little object.
Always one up, because you can only count on yourself he thinks. Or is he remembering? He doesn't know...
It's crazy, all of this is crazy. But something inside him has pushed him to test the die, the same something that made him check it too in the room where he woke up.
Taking off his jacket, he lays down on the bed for a while, with no idea about what to do and the small die still secure in his fist.
He's gone as far as he can on his own.
He can try to stay a few days and hope to get his memories back. Or he can try to look at all his stuff where there might be any data that could prove useful.
Or you can ask for help he thinks. There has to be someone whom I can trust.
He turns towards his jacket and takes the iPhone he found in one of the pockets while he was on the cab. He switches it on, entering both passwords correctly without really knowing them, letting muscle memory do the work. Looking at the address book he realizes than even if he is supposed to know all these people, he doesn't remember them.
He starts scrolling through the list of names, hoping that some of them – or at least one – will trigger a memory or feeling of trust.
He starts with the A of Ariadne, and stops briefly at Baulmer residence but lets it go. He stops a bit longer at Dominick; there's something there, he can not be sure what but he's very tempted to call. Something stops him though. The next name makes him definitely stop: Eames.
"Eames..." he whispers. It sounds familiar, as if he is used to saying it.
He closes his eyes for a second and there's a flash. A memory arising from wherever they have all sunk: white walls, some kind of lab full of vials, several machines like the one he has on the living room, stacks of papers with maps and blueprints... he's rolling his die over a big table. Someone approaches him from behind, and his die lands one upward at the same time that a poker chip is thrown next to it. Now we're two... from now on I've got your back man he hears right behind him.
It's gone as quickly as it came, but it's definitely enough.
He trusts his instincts; they have been saving his ass ever since he woke up with his memory emptier than a banker's heart.
He presses the calling button and waits.
About 1400 kilometres from Prague, a phone rings incessantly in the early hours of the day. Eames doesn't need to check who is calling, the lyrics of Too Much Love Will Kill You are reserved for just one man. Someone he's been trying to get in touch with for the last six months and who has been annoyingly evasive. He thinks about not answering, just to spite Arthur.
Serves him right for not answering any of my calls, he thinks. But he knows himself well enough to know that he doesn't have it in him to refuse Arthur, especially when he has been extremely worried about him.
He picks up the call at "You're headed for disaster 'cos you never read the signs" and can't stop the shiver that goes down his spine.
"Well, look who's answering his messages at least," Eames says, the reproach evident in his tone. His eyes are still closed. He is no rush to be awake, it's not even 6 o'clock in the morning. For all he cares Arthur can be as anal as he wishes about starting the day early, but Eames is semi-retired, so he's not getting out of bed until 10 o'clock, thank you very much.
"Errr..." It's the only answer he gets from Arthur. If he is trying to dodge the verbal storm he has coming he can't be more wrong, Eames thinks.
"Where the hell have you been, darling? I've been searching for you all over the globe. For goodness sake! Even your mother has been calling, she's worried sick about you!" Eames scolds Arthur, letting go of all the feelings and concerns that have been building up for the last few months.
"Eames..." Arthur tries to interrupt him again but Eames doesn't want to listen to him. He's bloody awake now even though the sun hasn't come up, so Arthur can try to placate him all he wants but Eames is going to tell him a few truths before Arthur gains the upper hand in this conversation, which is usually how their interactions work.
"Yes Arthur, don't Eames me! You can't just disappear like that! You insufferable git! You..." Eames berates him.
"Arthur... so that's my name then" Arthur says, and for the first time Eames realizes that Arthur's voice sounds a bit off. Shyer maybe...
"What? Of course your... Arthur? Are you all right?" Eames asks finally, all his senses on alert now. Something's wrong, he's certain of it now, and Eames can't help but curse himself for wasting precious minutes absorbed in his own annoyance.
"I... I think I'm fine, but I don't remember..." Arthur says, and he sounds so lost... so unlike Arthur that Eames can barely believe this is the same man who usually moves around like he is unstoppable.
"Ok, let's start again," Eames says, this time fully awake and already moving around his room looking for clothes and his ready to-go bag. "What don't you remember?" he asks Arthur.
"Everything? I don't know! I'm doing things even without knowing why, and I don't even know who I am!" Arthur says his voice frantic.
"Ok, you are not going to believe me but this doing things by instinct is good. Now, tell me where you are," Eames asks, completely dressed and ready to go to wherever Arthur might be.
"Why?" Arthur asks, sounding suspicious which even if it's a good sign that he's still himself it's not really the time.
"Because I'm going to come to you, and I'm going to help you, and we are going to solve this fucked up situation you have gotten yourself into. And then I'll try to get some common sense into that thick head of yours, if that's all right with you," Eames explains, because he has never lied to Arthur and he doesn't see why he should star now. "And once you remember you can be as suspicious of me as you wish, but right now you have to trust me and do as I tell you. Do you trust me?" Eames asks, and for a second, when Arthur doesn't answer he's afraid Arthur is going to be difficult precisely at a time like this.
"Yes, I do," Arthur say finally, in his mind the words with my life, yes I do trust you echoing like a single note.
"Good, now tell me where you are," Eames asks again. He is in his Eos, starting the car even if he still doesn't know where he is supposed to go.
"Prague, Hotel Yasmin, room 307," Arthur says, and remains in silence.
"Prague... I'll be there in about three hours, more or less..." he informs Arthur, mentally calculating the fastest route to get to Prague.
"Ok..." Arthur says, his voice strangely flat and devoid of any animosity or amusement, as it usually sounds when he is talking to Eames.
"I'm going to hang up now, but call me if you have any question or just want to talk while I'm not there. Oh! And don't fall sleep, you hear me?" Eames insists, he is sure Arthur's training won't let him fall asleep until it's safe but just in case. "Don't let yourself fall asleep and obviously don't try to use the PASIV... The, errr... the little machine I'm sure you have somewhere inside a metallic suitcase. I don't know... get a shower, watch the TV, look around your computer, ask to room service for some breakfast, have a wank, whatever you want to do not get bored. Just. Don't. Sleep."
"No sleeping; got it. Don't worry. And I wasn't planning on testing that machine either. I don't think I could even if I wanted to..." Arthur says, ignoring his dirty comment which is such an un-Arthur response that Eames' knuckles go all white on the wheel. Arthur also sounds a bit shaken to Eames' ears, but he supposes it's to be expected if Arthur has been through what he thinks has happened. "I... thank you, for helping me."
"Don't mention it darling, you know I've got your back. Always. You only need to ask and there are very few things I wouldn't do for you. And were the situation reversed, you'd do the same for me. See you in a few hours," Eames says. There are hundreds of ways to interpret what he has said, probably all true, sadly. Arthur never gets it, though.
"Later, then," Arthur says and he hangs up.
Such a smart and intelligent man, and he is also the most incredibly dense human being, Eames thinks driving as fast as the Eos lets him, which is a lot more faster than what is legally allowed.
He's just going into the A54 motorway to Marseille when he decides to make a call. After all if Arthur has called for help, why shouldn't I do the same?
"Hey, I need a favour. I wouldn't ask if it weren't important but, it's Arthur..." Eames says, letting his interlocutor talk. "Well, I don't think you need to buy the entire company this time, a simple private jet to take me to Prague and come back in a few hours will do... Yes, I'm sure, Saito. I know you like to think on a grand scale, but this time the less people in the know, the better".
He listens to Saito, enjoying his conversation, absolutely sure that while they are talking Saito is already making arrangements. And he is right. Five minutes later, five minutes of Saito asking about his whereabouts and Eames bringing him up to speed, on what little he knows. Finally Saito informs him there's a jet waiting for him. Eames just needs to say he is Mr Saito's friend and he'll be taken to the jet.
"Thank you, I really need to reach him and see how bad it is.. yeah I know... Oh, you know that Dalí you love so much? You can expect it at your home in a few months. Thanks man!"
True to Saito's word, once Eames arrives at the Aéroport de Marseille-Provence and goes to the check-in desk he has been told to go to, they lead him to an small but comfortable and stylish jet that flies him to Prague in a little bit less than two hours.
Arthur – because now he knows that's his name – has spent the last three hours walking around his room, checking his luggage and possessions. So far he's found three different guns, one of them attached to his ankle, three very expensive suits and a few casual clothes, another fake identity, several bath and hygiene products and a MacBook Pro.
He has followed some of Eames' advice: he has ordered breakfast and he's engaged in the arduous work of logging on to his Mac. With every code he manages to break – and he has spent a good hour and half doing so – he is even more convinced he is some kind of secret agent, or had been at some point of his mysterious life. Arthur can't think any other profession that would make him so paranoid.
"An hour and a half and the stupid thing is still practically fully encrypted," Arthur mumbles, drinking the last of his coffee and letting out an exasperated sigh.
He is contemplating smashing the damn thing; even if he is sure that once he remembers – because Arthur is convinced this is only a temporary situation and that he will be as good as new in a few days – he won't be very happy with his own memory deprived-self destroying the valuable machine when someone knocks on his door.
Before he realizes, he's at the door, a gun in his hand and ready to shoot, all his senses on alert, before he realizes.
"Who's there?" he asks, hopefully it would be Eames because he hasn't asked for anything else.
"Arthur darling, could you open the door? I haven't crossed half of Europe to wait in a hotel corridor, even one as nice as this one, mind you," Eames says from the other side of the door.
Arthur breathes out, relaxing a bit, and opens the door. A flood of memories hits Arthur at the sight of Eames, hitting him so hard it feels like a physical blow. He takes a step back, lifting a hand to his face and groaning.
"Oh darling..." Eames says, closing the door. He is suddenly by Arthur's side, making him sit down and taking the gun from his hand. "Breathe; take deep and slow breaths, Arthur. Don't force the memories to stay, just let them flow... They will settle on their own when your mind is ready."
"What the hell was that?" Arthur asks once he feels like he can speak again. He looks up directly at Eames. It's strange to see someone, to know you have met that person before and have seen some memories which include that person, but don't really remember him. Not fully at least; there are some images floating around his mind, but they seem to be blurry.
"That, I suppose, was a full truckload of memories coming back to you. Probably about me or related to me. And let me tell you, I'm flattered you think so much about poor old me." Eames says, adding at Arthur's blank look, "The more memories and the more deep-rooted they are, the harder they'll hit you. And about why... you tell me, darling. I've just arrived."
Arthur lets out a sigh, his head falling on the armchair's backrest. He knows he has to explain to Eames what has happened, it's the only way he can get some help, but he really doesn't know how or where to start. He finally gets up and goes for the so-called PASIV, he supposes Eames might know how to read it.
"Why don't you ask for some coffee, or tea if you prefer," Arthur says. He doesn't know why but he has the feeling that Eames is more a tea drinker than a coffee one. It may be the accent, or maybe he just knows him. “This is going to take some time I gather."
Following Arthur's suggestion Eames calls room service. He orders tea, coffee, orange juice, several pastries and the full continental breakfast. He looks at his watch and realizes it's only half past ten am. Arthur can't blame Eames: after he's been roused from sleep at an ungodly hour to help someone who might not even be a friend. Arthur puts the PASIV on the small table in the space there is between the couch and the two armchairs, and sits down again.
"Ok, tell me what you know," Eames says opening the metallic suitcase and checking the small device inside.
"I'm not really sure..." Arthur begins. It's the truth, he has no idea what's happened. He can't remember. He guesses Eames wants to know everything that's happened since he woke up. "I don't remember anything. I wasn't lying when I told you I didn't even know my own name."
"I know, tell me what's the first thing you remember and I promise I'll try to explain as much as I can later," Eames reassures him.
"I woke in a strange room with no memory of how I arrived there," Arthur explains, observing how Eames opens carefully the suitcase and checks the device. "There were four of us; the mark I believe was the oldest, and was still unconscious. Then there were a man and a woman who appeared to be awake but unresponsive. I checked their pulse when I disconnected them from that machine, but they didn't talk and their eyes didn't fix on me when I tried to speak to them."
He looks expectantly at Eames, but he only signals him to go on. Arthur sighs and goes on with his story. "It was disconcerting doing things without knowing why. Checking their pulses, disconnecting them all neatly, checking the small die in my pocket... I've been doing things like those since I woke up. Don't misunderstand me, I'm very grateful that somehow my body knows what to do, but it doesn't make it any easier to digest it all. You know I had more than one ID on me? What am I suppose to believe? That I'm some kind of James Bond?" Arthur finally explodes.
"No. James Bond would be more my thing, you were a CIA agent," Eames answers, smirking like it's the funniest thing ever. "And a bloody good one let me tell you. I'm certain they are still trying to make you come back."
"Fuck..." Arthur mutters, his left hand going instinctively to his pocket to check the small die.
"I'd love to darling, but I don't think now might be the right time," Eames teases. His attention suddenly fixes on Arthur's hand, the one on his pocket. "How many times have you checked your totem?"
"My what?" Arthur asks. He looks at his left hand and he immediately closes his fist around the small object. "Oh... I checked it once when I woke up, but only by touching it. Later when I arrived here I rolled it three times. Why? What does it mean? Are you going to explain to me what the hell is happening and why?" Arthur practically yells the question, he's getting incredibly worked up with all the mystery and the ex-CIA agent business and all.
"I've already promised I'll try to explain as well as I can, but what you need to know right now is that something in your last job went extremely wrong," Eames says bluntly. "You can count yourself lucky to have been trained for this. It's the only reason you are here and not in that hotel room with them.” Eames continues. He rises from the couch, taking one of the vials from the PASIV. “Pack all your belongings; we are leaving as soon as I come back."
"Where're you going?" Arthur asks. His voice sounds firm, but only because there's no way he's going to show Eames how shaken he feels. How much to be alone again scares the hell out of him.
"To clean up. Do you have the address from where you woke up?" Eames asks, looking at him as if he knows Arthur does.
Arthur opens his mouth. He's about to snap at Eames as to how is he supposed to remember where he was when he was in so much shock when something clicks inside his mind. Arthur closes his mouth; he doesn't know why but he can't stand the idea of looking like a fool in front of Eames. Arthur goes silently to his coat and looks for a piece of paper. He looks at the small note puzzled; he doesn't even remember writing it.
Eames approaches him cautiously and lifts his hand, asking for the paper.
"Don't dwell too much on it," Eames says, putting the note in his back pocket. "You have been trained for these kinds of situations." With those words he is off to do whatever he has set his mind to.
Arthur doesn't want know, not really. The look of steely determination in Eames’ eyes has him shivering. He needs to clean up... he thinks. And the words clean up make him sick to his stomach. He doesn't allow himself to dwell on that though; instead he busies himself packing, calling reception to let them know he's checking out today.
He's ready to go in half an hour, which still leaves him plenty of time to wait for Eames to return. Too much time, especially for an empty mind like his, eager for new information and memories. The pain he knows comes with the memories makes Arthur reconsider what he's about to do. Maybe he should listen to Eames' advice: trust his own mind and let the memories come back on their own time.
They are both reasonable options. If only it wasn't so fucking frightening to have this void inside, this feeling of emptiness... he thinks. He doesn't have anything better to do, and because if it's just one memory he will feel grateful for it, he carefully goes over each and every memory he saw when Eames arrived.
White walls, white floor: a laboratory. A red die rolling around, one upward. A red poker chip that always falls on its side. "I still don't see why I need this", "didn’t you learn anything in MI6?".
Endless sand, the sound of a shot, blood on his shoes. Endless sand, the sound of a shot, the taste of blood in his mouth. The sun high in the sky.
"This is getting old, we should try to spice it up a bit.". ""We are talking about dying Mr Eames, not about sex." "Only because you don't want to, darling."
Smoke, smoke everywhere... fire and explosions all around him. He runs at the same time as he shoots his invisible pursuers. He can't see them but they’re there, he can feel them. A pair of hands grabbing and yanking him into a narrow hallway. His hand immediately goes to one of the pockets of his bulletproof vest, "Don't bother," says the man who has saved his life, "there's no way this is real. I know for sure I'd never sign up for something like this, and of course you would never wear BDUs even if your life depended on it."
He reads the papers again, he still can't believe it. They are from one of his contacts in MI6, but not his principal one. Of course it seems he doesn't have a principal contact any more. Resignation, the papers say. Dream bigger, darling, the small note attached to the file.
Arthur has felt the headache mounting with every new memory that he's watched like some kind of movie; by the last one, the nausea hits him like a blow to his stomach.
He is still on the bathroom floor after throwing up all his breakfast when Eames comes back.
"Oh Arthur..." he sighs upon seeing him. "Can't I leave you for a minute without you getting into trouble?"
Arthur barely remembers leaving the hotel and the drive to the airport. It's not until Eames puts a cup of tea in his hand, already inside the jet, that Arthur gets a hold on himself and realizes where he is.
"Welcome back..." says Eames. He is sitting on the other side of the table where breakfast has been served to them. Again Arthur thinks. It's the third time he has tried to eat breakfast. He actually managed it once, but of course he had to go and make himself feel sick after.
"Drink the tea, Arthur," Eames orders him. "It will help settle your stomach. And then, when you feel ready, we can talk," he says, drinking from his own cup. Eames has such a satisfied expression that if he were to claim tea solves all problems, Arthur would believe him.
"I'm... I feel fine now," Arthur says. He can't say that he is alright or ready. He doesn't know if he's ever going to be ready for whatever Eames has to say to him.
"If you say so... What do you want to know first? I'm not supposed to tell you a lot, just the basics to help you fill your memory. And only facts, of course. Not suppositions or what I think or believe, are we clear?"
"Crystal," Arthur answer, and he shoots the first question before he can stop himself. He really needs to know. "Did you kill them?"
Eames looks calmly at him, takes a sip of his tea, and answers him with such frankness and lack of remorse that Arthur is almost afraid to ask any more questions. "Yes. It was the only thing I could do. I thought maybe your team could be saved, but they were too far gone. And the mark was pitiful. We couldn't leave them in that condition."
"I've never lied to you, Arthur," Eames continues, "I'm not going to start now when you are vulnerable, so think well what you ask because maybe you won’t like the answer," he finishes with another sip from his cup.
"Ok..." Arthur says. He had already figured as much. "You said something about a job gone wrong... What kind of job? Because you know, just saying I'm ex-CIA doesn't explain it all. Quite the contrary. And how the hell did we met? Because I keep seeing images of some kind of laboratory and it's driving me mad," he finishes a bit agitated, just thinking about how he felt trying to remember is enough to leave Arthur shaken.
"It was about ten years ago," Eames begins. He doesn't say that it's been exactly ten years, seven months and six days since the day they met. Arthur doesn't need need to know how bloody pathetic he is when it comes to him, at least not yet. "In a pharmaceutical laboratory in Switzerland. For the first time our governments decided to stop beating around the bush and try to work together on a mission in dream sharing. An extraction to one of the most volatile terrorist cells in Middle East that you guys had been tagging and we had linked to a rich Arabian Saudi business man."
Arthur listens and listens. He wouldn't believe half of it, except that something inside of him thinks it makes perfect sense.
By the time the jet lands Arthur's mind is full. He's trying to link what has been explained to him to the few snatches of his past that he has recovered so far, and his head is killing him.
"So what's the plan?" he asks Eames while they walk out the airport. "Is there a cure or a medicine or something to speed up this process? Or to make it less painful?" He frowns as he massages his temples.
Eames looks at him and smiles. "The plan, darling, is to go to my lovely home, relax, make you enjoy a bit of peace for a change and wait," he says. Eames stops in front of a black car, resting an arm on the roof. He turns around and looks at Arthur with a lazy smile on his lips. "I hope you like life in the countryside, where there is no place for suits."
Arthur scowls and Eames laughs. This might be an awful time for Arthur and yes, Eames is worried about him but bloody hell… This is Arthur here we are talking about he thinks.
"Don't look at me like that, darling," he tells Arthur once they are in the car and driving away. "We are going to have so much fun! You'll see..." And if by we he actually meant I, well... Specificity has always been overrated in his opinion.
True to Eames' words they go to his house, which is more a ville than just a simple house. A beautiful country cottage in Southern France: stone walls covered by ivy and grapevines, colourful décor and a beautiful and sunny land covered by vineyards; lavender linden trees and pines surrounding it.
Arthur is not exactly sure what he would have expected from Eames had his memories been in place, but even with one morning with him he can say that a nice ville like this one isn't exactly what would have come to his mind.
"Have you always lived here?" Arthur asks Eames later that evening, while they are sitting outside on the porch. He has to know, there's a part of him that can't get his mind around the idea of Eames having a quiet life like this.
"Oh no!" Eames laughs. "I just bought it over a year ago. We did this big job together, a successful inception, and that got us enough money to live a dozen different comfortable lives. I travelled around for a while, got into business as usual, and then I just felt like I couldn't carry on like that any more..." he stops and Arthur thinks he is not going to get any more information. He is glad to be wrong.
"I have, we have, done everything that can be done in our field of work. We're already at the top. We have transformed extractions and inception into a work of art. That means I've been spoiled for life," Eames tries to explain, looking for the correct words to say it. "I mean, the thrill is gone. Yes, I could keep on working and try to find it again, but I've seen where that ends: with a bullet in your head or your mind lost forever." Eames looks pointedly at him.
"So you’re retired," Arthur mutters, turning his head so he doesn't have to see the accusation in Eames' eyes.
"Semi retired, darling," Eames says with a wink. "I'm not opposed to doing some jobs now and then. Only for fun. Because I love to forge, not because I can't stop myself. I did a couple of jobs last year, both of them for old colleagues and very entertaining. But I prefer not to be a full time dreamer anymore. There are also interesting jobs to do in reality," he finishes with another wink.
Life in the countryside with Eames is more enjoyable than Arthur thought. Especially once he buys some more casual and comfortable clothes. Even if it pains him to admit Eames was right, again. There's no way he can go around the fields, or the garden, or just lie around on the porch reading a book or drinking some wine from the area wearing his pristine Ralph Lauren trousers.
"Why Arles?" Arthur asks the morning after they arrived. Eames had decided that Arthur's suits wouldn’t do and they both go buy some clothes at the town's street market. Eames also takes this chance to send a vial of the compound used by Arthur's team to someone...
"Because it has a magical light... there's no place like this to watch, observe and then mix it all on a canvas." At that, Arthur looks at him surprised but doesn't comment on it. "Did you know that Van Gogh stayed in the Ville d'Arles and painted some of his most beautiful works there?"
Arthur didn't know, or maybe he did but he doesn't actually remember. It feels like memories, or at least Arthur's memories, are nasty little things that enjoy playing hide-and-seek with him.
It's been more than a week since Arthur arrived when he asks the question that's been on his mind for the past two days. It might feel like something out of the blue, and it probably is, judging by Eames response; which involves a glass falling to floor and lots of coughing due to wine going the wrong way.
"Were we lovers?" Arthur asks, because he can't not ask it. He might be missing his memories, but he's no fool. He is quite observant, especially now he doesn't know what to expect of anyone, and he has seen the looks that Eames shoots his way when he believes Arthur isn't looking. He can say, without a doubt, that Eames is one of the few people he trusts. They seem to have a history... And then there's the constant flirting and the terms of endearment, and so on and so forth.
"It seems like the most logical answer," He says when Eames manages to ask why he thinks so.
Eames looks at him for a minute, his face blank. Then he turns around to clean the dishes.
They are both in the kitchen. It's late at night and they just had dinner, and Eames can't believe Arthur has just asked something like that. He doesn't know whether to laugh at the question or just cry at his bloody luck.
Arthur, wonderful and obtuse Arthur, who he's been in love with for the last eight years, give or take. Arthur who never takes Eames seriously, who ignored each and every single attempt at wooing. Arthur, who always thinks Eames is the irresponsible and lazy bastard that he lets the rest of the world see; even if he should know better. Because damn it! He has known Eames for longer than any of their mutual acquaintances. Arthur, who has never shown an interest, not only in Eames, but in anyone else in the world. Arthur, always perfect Arthur. Perfect and bloody oblivious Arthur.
At least up to this day.
Eames sighs, because he can, in all honesty, say that he is tempted, he's sorely tempted. It would be amazingly easy.
He hasn't told Arthur because he hadn't wanted to make Arthur suspicious or wary of him. But despite all the training and mental barriers they were taught, there were also the fallouts of losing yourselves into intra-dreaming subspace – or what Cobb called limbo. One was that whilst in the process of the memories settling back into place it was extremely easy to influence or mix an idea with the recovered memories. It wasn't exactly inception like they did with Fischer. But if a person in such a situation was to be put down into dreams, a false memory could be implanted. And yes, they were trained to detect them, within time... But they also were trained to do it. It was the usual modus operandi when an agent got lost and they weren't sure he could be sent back into business: memory erase and false memories. It was one of the reasons he left, it was a sick game to play. And to some extent, the influence could be done without going down. Especially on a position and with the experience like the Eames has.
A lesser man would see this situation as his dreams come true. To Eames it's an absolute nightmare.
"Eames?" Arthur asks, not knowing what to think of Eames' reaction.
"No, no we are not... we've never been lovers," Eames finally says, drying his hand with a tea towel and turning slowly towards Arthur. "Not for a lack of interest on my part of course," he adds. Why not say it? It's not as if Arthur will believe me when he's back to himself Eames thinks.
"Oh," Arthur says. Because what else is there to say? That he is sorry? He doesn't know if he is sorry, he can't remember. For all he knows right now he could have been in love with Eames for years, or not. He could also not like Eames in a personal way despite trusting him with his life on the field of work, or not.
"You know Arthur," Eames interrupts his thoughts, for which Arthur is extremely thankful. "As intelligent and smart a man as you usually are, you're bloody blind. It's surprising how much more observant you seem to be right now."
To that, Arthur had not a thing to say.
The don't talk about that for the rest of the night. Actually, they don't talk anymore.
Arthur retires to what has become his room for the last week, and Eames decides that there's no time like the present to try some of the wine he bought from one of his neighbours.
The topic does not come up again, but Eames can feel it, the damn pink elephant walking around the house. He feels it while he plans how to steal the Galatea of the Spheres for Saito. He feels it when Arthur looks at him and Eames pretends not to notice. And he especially feels it when he helps Arthur with his concentration exercises – meant to help the recovered memories settle – and Arthur looks at him like he wants to ask something but does not dare to. This last irks Eames since he's never known Arthur to be a coward.
Arthur for his part tries not to think too much of Eames' words. He decided the night they had that awkward conversation that it would be better to wait till his memories are completely recovered. In the meantime, he enjoys his days lazing around Eames' ville. His body seems to like this change: once he stops to take a good look at himself Arthur notices it doesn't look like he's been taking care of himself lately. He seems to be sleep deprived, or maybe it's that the memory recovering process needs lots of sleep, he wonders.
He is also convinced that he is eating a lot more that he used to. For what little he remembers, it seems that he could go sometime only on caffeine and sugar. Not the best way to have a healthy diet. Now Eames seems intent on making him try all the local specialities. Local being the entire south of France, actually.
By the third week Arthur feels physically better than he has in the last three years, or it seems so according to the memories he has already recovered. Mentally though, even with a big part of his memories back he still feels off, as if he's watching a movie and not part of his life.
Eames has told him that's usually how it works. "You've got your memories back. Now you have to wait for them to take their place, to click in."
Arthur know Eames is right; he has seen it in his memories.
The training, the experiments... dying and dying and dying, going even deeper with every death until the mind collapses... Causing short term memory losses to learn how to recover from them. Dying and going into intra-dream subspace and just survive: no creating, no living, no believing that it’s reality; just surviving. Surviving and backing up your own memories so deep in your own mind, that you forget you even have them till you only know how to feel and react and survive.
Arthur has seen it all. He knows he has gone through that kind of training. He also knows that was nothing to what he's lost this time. This time he fucked up well and through, according to Yusuf’s analysis, due to an adulterated somnacin compound. Which is why, even if he knows he needs to wait a bit more, it doesn't make it any easier to bear.
Eames is right, of course. Painfully right.
When it happens, a month and week after his accident, Arthur wakes up gasping and with the most insidious headache he has ever had the misfortune to suffer. He breathes with difficulty and presses his hand to his temple and the nape of his neck.
When he manages to calm his breathing and open his eyes, Arthur realizes he finally remembers; that he is finally himself again because he feels like crying. He's been so fucking close to dying. Or even worse, to ending up a mindless body.
"Oh gods..." he chokes. He covers his mouth and goes out as silently as possible, containing the nausea till he is far enough to throw up without waking up Eames. He has already humiliated himself enough in front of him, this would be more than his pride could bear.
Once his stomach is empty and he feels like he's been turned inside out, Arthur goes back into the house and drinks some water. Feeling a lot better, and with a deep breath to steady himself, he goes for his PASIV suitcase. Arthur has set his mind to do what Eames forbade him to while he was still recovering - even if he knows it was the right thing to do.
He's going to connect to the PASIV, he's going to go under and he's going to dream again.
When he opens the suitcase and takes the cannula to connect himself though, his hand shakes. It's only a small trembling but it's enough to make him stop.
Oh fuck... what the hell was I going to do? he thinks, and with a sigh he lets the cannula fall and waits.
Eames is not an early riser, especially if he has no appointments and nowhere to be at some particular time. For the last few weeks though, he has been awakened with the sound of Arthur moving around in the kitchen, and the smell of coffee. This morning, however, he sleeps till half past ten, which is long past the usual time he has grown accustomed to thanks to Arthur.
Maybe he finally got into his head that he doesn't need to rise with the sun... he surmises.
He strolls into the kitchen needing a nice cuppa like he needs the air he breaths. It's really unfortunate, in his opinion, that Arthur is not a tea drinker at all. For all his perfection and professionalism, Arthur's never grasped the finer points of tea making.
He spots Arthur out of the corner of his eye, and is about to grunt a good morning and go on his way when something catches his attention. In less than a second he is completely awake, feeling like someone has dropped a bucket of cold water over him.
Arthur in sitting down on one of the sofas in the living room: grey suit, serious expression, his travel suitcase next to the sofa and the PASIV in front of him. He is all sharp angles and business attitude. The Arthur he has always known. So it has finally happened, he thinks.
"I'm going to make tea, a big pot," Eames says, resuming his way to the kitchen. "I don't think I can deal with you looking like that with no tea in my body."
"Eames," Arthur says, and there it is, the collected tone he has been hearing since they met.
"Yes Arthur?" he replies moving around his kitchen.
Arthur sighs and resigns himself to wait until Eames decides he is ready to talk. The way that Eames unnerves him with a simple word is certainly one of the things he wouldn't have minded forgetting for good. It would make his life a lot easier.
Five minutes, and a several questions about how 'the click felt' later, Eames sits on an armchair next to the couch, carrying a tray with a full tea service and some biscuits.
"So... you seem to be in rush to leave my lovely dwelling," Eames says, because Arthur doesn't seems inclined to start talking.
"I believe I've been imposing enough," he says.
"Bullshit," Eames refutes. "To begin with, it was my idea to bring you here, and even if it wasn't the obvious and logical thing to do, do you really think that I mind having you around? Please darling, we have known each other long enough to know better."
Arthur turns his face and looks through the window opposite Eames. He doesn't want to see Eames' expression. He might have all his memories back, but the last few weeks have given him an insight into Eames' life that he didn't know about. Arthur feels like he might need to re-evaluate everything he has always assumed about the other man.
Perceiving Arthur's discomfort, Eames wants to hit himself. Really man, did I need to talk to him like that? He is still probably quite shaken, he's just covering it with his usual indifference and a façade of seriousness, thus the clothes.
"Have you gone under?" Eames asks, hoping that the subject change will make Arthur feel more comfortable.
"No," Arthur answers and looks at Eames. "I tried but... I couldn't, I..." he tries to explain and finally lets his head fall into his hand. "My hands were shaking."
"That's to be expected, Arthur," Eames interposes, because really... Of course Arthur would think everything was going to be nice and dandy once he was back to normal, but that's not how playing with the mind works. "You know perfectly that..."
"Not me!" Arthur interrupts. "This can't happen to me, there's no way I'll... Do you have any idea how it would affect my dreams if I'm like that? The subconscious doesn't play around, Eames! You know it. If I fear dreaming, if any part of me is afraid to go under, I won't be able to work in dreams any more!" Arthur practically yells.
"Hold on, won't you? First, you know that's a usual reaction, it happens more especially the longer you are lost," Eames replies, trying to calm Arthur down. "You can't expect not to have any after-effects from this, for goodness sake! You were down there for about 6 hours in reality, I don't even want to know how many years that means. But you woke up, and you came back. The bloody training has worked: you are back to normal. You should consider yourself lucky that you didn't end like those poor souls that went down with you. So what if you can't work as a dreamer again? What? You are alive and in one bloody piece!" Eames yells back at Arthur.
Condescension be damned, Eames still remembers the vacant eyes of Arthur's team, and their mark... Gods, Eames doesn't want to think about them.
"And what am I going to do if I can't dream? I'm a dreamer, Eames! I've been around dreamers and oniric scientists since I was born. I grew up to be a fucking dreamer, what else could I ever be?" Arthur retaliates furiously
"Whatever you bloody want to be, darling." Eames sighs, he sometimes forgets how out of the norm Arthur's life has been. With one of the engineers that created the dream technology as a mother and one of the agents from the first experimental group of intelligence that worked with such technology as a father, there's no place for a normal childhood – not that his was a usual one either. "You know better than anyone in this field, the dangers of dreaming for too long: you either get killed in real life or get too lost down there. At some point you need to be smart enough to retire when you are still sane enough to do it." And pinning Arthur with a firm look, Eames adds. "You are one of the smartest people I've ever met Arthur; don't make this one of your few mistakes, because it could be your last."
Arthur shoots him such a bewildered look that Eames needs to make an effort not to laugh. He's sure Arthur wouldn't find it half as funny – if at all – as he does.
Something else crosses Arthur's mind because Eames can see how his expression goes from perplexed to troubled in an instant.
Arthur seems to be about to say something; he opens his mouths but immediately closes it as if he thinks better of it. He frowns and averts his eyes from Eames'.
"I need to go," he finally says.
Eames can practically see the bloody pink elephant dancing around them.
What else can Eames tell him? Yes, he can ask Arthur to stay, but he knows the answer to that and he understands that Arthur needs to leave. Arthur needs to go on his own and clear his mind. Get a grip on his own life before it's too late. Both of them know that when you begin to behave as carelessly as Arthur did, you are on your way to fading away. They haven't mentioned it, but it's clear that either Arthur didn't check the somnacin compound – which would be the first time - or if he did he decided to use anyway.
Arthur is right, he needs to leave. He doesn't need Eames’ declarations of love. Not right now. He has enough to think about without adding any more. And of course Eames knows it, and he is going to let Arthur go at the risk of not seeing him anymore. He is going to let him go without telling him because he is better than that. And because if he hasn't said anything in ten years, why do it now even if it's his last chance?
"You can take one of the cars in the garage," Eames says in the end, because he really is a better man. "The keys are inside."
"Thank you," Arthur says, rising from his seat and closing the PASIV case. "For the car; and specially for being there when I've most needed someone."
"Don't mention it, darling," Eames replies, a half smile on his lips. "Didn't I tell you the first time we met? You are not alone. I've got your back. Always, don't ever doubt it," he tells Arthur, going with him till the porch.
"I know," Arthur says, and Eames would bet big money there's a smile on Arthur's face.
Arthur takes the Eos, of course he does. He's not the kind of man that would drive a Peugeot, and he is already inside and ready to go when Eames yells.
"Oh Arthur! Just so we are clear, I've never lied to you!" He needed to say it, and when he sees the smile that Arthur gives him before driving away, he knows it was the right thing to do.
Two weeks later Eames receives a card with a simple note, thank you, it says. It's from Dr. Helena Baulmer – Arthur's mother. He doesn't know if she's thanking him for taking care of Arthur or for knocking some sense into his head. Maybe both.
He felts better after that. He still doesn't have any news from Arthur but at least, if his mother feels confident enough in her son's state of mind to thank Eames – and that woman sure knows how to evaluate someone - he can stop worrying about Arthur doing something really stupid, like dying, or getting killed, or getting lost again.
Eames goes on with his life exactly like he did before Arthur came along, or he tries to. He can't help the feeling of anticipation in his gut, like he's waiting for something... or someone. Someone who he could wait for all his life, but no one ever said that love is sensible.
Two weeks become a month, then two and Eames forges The Galatea of the Spheres. On the third month he actually goes to Figueres, in north Catalonia, and replaces it for the original that is sent with a we are even card to Saito.
It happens in the middle of the night, about four months after Arthur left (four months, a week and two days, Eames would say if he wanted to look desperate). Eames is sound asleep when a strong and relentless knocking on the entrance door wakes him up.
There are precious few people who know of this place, and they usually call before coming, especially if they plan to arrive at such an unholy hour. So that leaves Arthur or some past associates with less good intentions and a lot more of guns. Eames groans and thinks that if this is Arthur he is going to kill him for waking him up. If not, he' going to kill someone anyway.
But of course, it is Arthur. Eames should have known, that man has the gift of bad timing he thinks.
But it's not just Arthur. It's Arthur in some khakis, a light vest with a white shirt underneath, and leather jacket. And Eames' mind goes blank. Because duuuh... That's Arthur at his door with his memory intact, wearing the most casual clothes and looking more relaxed than Eames has ever seen him.
"Can I get in? It's late... or too early," Arthur says with a smile playing on his lips. And Eames lets him in, of course he does. What else can he do?
When he closes his door and turns around to look at Arthur, he sees the small bag Arthur carries; a nice leather travelling bag. Arthur follows his look and shrugs.
"I have the rest of my luggage in the car," he says matter of factly, like it's the most natural thing to appear at Eames' door in the middle of the night. To stay for a while, it seems.
"I would go check my totem, but there's no way I feel this half asleep and tired inside a dream," Eames finally says and goes to make some tea. He needs tea; tea is always his solution for everything, especially if Arthur is involved.
"You don't even believe in totems, Eames," Arthur replies, hopping on one of the kitchen counters. "You only have one because you were told to,"” he adds with a smile.
And Eames ponders if maybe he's wrong and he really is dreaming.
"You are not dreaming, Eames," Arthur says.
"Maybe not..." and he stops before he says something as stupid as but you look a lot more like you look like in my dreams than in reality. "You look different, more... eerr... relaxed..." he says instead.
"Yeah... I took the advice of a very good friend and went on a long trip. Just travelling for the pleasure of enjoying the sights," Arthur explains. "I don't think I had done that since I was a kid."
"I'm glad you did," Eames says, once he has a cuppa in his hands and feels like he can form coherent sentences again. "Sounds like good advice, might have come from a very good friend."
"Oh yes, it was the best way to figure out what to do next, what to do with my life now I've decided to stop working actively on dream extractions," Arthur says.
"And you do? I mean, do you know what are you going to do?" Eames asks. He's really curious. He knows Arthur can do whatever he sets his mind to, what he's not that sure about is that Arthur believes it too.
"Well, it might depend... I have an offer to conduct seminars in different centres of the Institut National du Sommeil et de la Vigilance," Arthur says, and the smile he has been showing falters. "Were you serious? Are you really... you know..."
"I've already told you, darling. I've never lied to you," Eames answers.
"So you are interested in me then?" Arthur presses again.
"To say the least. God, Arthur, do you really need to ask?" Eames replies. "I can draw you a map if you prefer, but really, darling, you can't be that dense."
"It's not that I didn't notice," Arthurs says, his eyes never leaving Eames, observing, trying to read him. "I just though you weren't serious."
"The story of my life," Eames complains. He's smiling at Arthur, because for the first time in his life he's allowing himself to hope "And what made you have this change of heart?"
"It would have been so easy, Eames," Arthur whispers, bracing himself, and for a moment he looks lost and absolutely frightened like he was when he couldn't remember. "So fucking easy... if you had only..."
"What kind of a bastard did you believe I was?" Eames interrupts Arthur annoyed.
"Luckily, the kind that you are not," Arthur says, and smiles. And the smile is enough to placate Eames.
"Ok then, I hope we are clear on that," Eames mumbles. "I don't take advantage of people, especially when they cannot defend themselves. And more in particular, if we are talking about you."
"I know," Arthur replies. "And I'm sorry that I ever thought that you could." He approaches Eames, and slowly takes the cup of tea from Eames hands and leaves it on the counter. "It's not going to be easy, you know. I'm not easy. We are going to argue, and I'm going to fight you and we will probably end up hating each other," Arthur tells him, practically breathing the words over Eames' lips.
"And how is that different from how we usually interact?" Eames asks, grinning like a fool. Because Arthur is going to kiss him, oh yes. Eames is not going to be the one doing it. He wants to, God knows I want to, he thinks. But it will feel better if it's Arthur who crosses the last gap between them. "Apart from the fact that there'll be sex, of course," he adds.
"Why, Mr Eames? Feeling lucky already?" Arthur whispers just before kissing Eames lightly. It doesn't feel like a shy kiss, more like a test. Eames always excels on his tests. He kisses Arthur with all the fierce longing and the love and the lust he has piled up for the last ten years. He devours Arthur's mouth, all lips taking and tongue claiming. And when Arthur moans into the kiss and presses his body against Eames', he slowly puts some distance between their mouths, enough to whisper over Arthur’s lips.
"Well yes darling, lucky indeed," he says. "Because if you are not naked on my bed in about... let's say five minutes? I'm going to seriously consider taking back that thing about not taking advantage."
"Lead the way then, Mr Eames," Arthur replies, taking Eames' hand and making him move from where he's been resting against the kitchen counter, walking them both towards Eames' bedroom. "Let's not start this with a merry chase."