Each time Eames sees Arthur enter the dream, he automatically remembers. He feels these memories push into himself and take root, reeling across his mind as he watches. Arthur gets coffee across the street and Eames knows he'll spill out a third of the cup to drown it in cream, he knows he'll draw from the holster at his ankle while pretending to tie his shoe when the woman behind him goes to stab him with a fork, he knows the calm, set look of his face as he runs down into the ally, he knows what he looks like when spilled across the street, skull smashed open and flesh peeled back stark and red in open air.
It's the last thing he sees, every time, before the dream fades away and Eames cracks up the sides and falls into the void.
After a while he thinks Arthur gets a little suspicious of him, but Eames can't help it. The more and more he gets to see of Arthur, the more he becomes complete. He knows that the warm feeling of hope flooding his chest each time he's recreated is foolish. With every dream he feels closer to the pinnacle of himself- but Eames also knows he'll never reach it.
He goes up to Arthur once, and only once.
"You're looking unusually chipper today. Did you finally shoot Morrison after he called you an unskilled cretin for not finishing the job?" He asks in lazy slouch, arm against the bar while tilting the beer in his hand towards the other man.
There's almost no response. Arthur simply moves his head slightly to the side to glance at him, but then pauses. There's a curious look in his eyes as he stares directly at Eames, and the longer it goes on the more uncomfortable it gets until Eames can't do anything but stare back silently and clear his throat.
Arthur looks down at his own hand, stopping it from reaching across any further, bemused at how it almost touches Eames' sleeve. Instead, he lets it drop to the bar where he takes a long swig from his own bottle before responding, shoulders hunched low and relaxed.
"What's unusual is how much easier you are to disturb in here."
And after that, there's nothing else to say. Eames can only stand dumbly beside him, uncomprehending. Yet this uneasiness in his gut climbs out at that clarity in Arthur's eyes as he looks at him, like he can see straight through to what he's feeling, and really, that's what Eames is supposed to do to other people, right?
When Arthur finishes his drink, he glances up for a short moment at Eames before pulling out the gun and shooting himself in the face.
There's a fine and horrible spatter across the wall, broken glass and dripping beer mixing with the gleaming white of bone in one infinite moment. Eames tries to cling to the sound, the colors, and the smells of the dream but it streaks away too fast, pulling him under and sucking out his soul before he falls again.
The thing is, he already knows that Arthur could never see him as anything else. How can some one be in love with a person who exists less than a day?
For Arthur, Eames exists linear in time, but here, in this mad little world, Eames knows himself the best, and he knows that's not the case. This consciousness 'Eames', is only a continuation, a clone. Each time Arthur dies in the dream, the Eames of that time dies. He breaks down back into the supersonic neurons and hormones and chemical endorphins he arose from- he dissipates into nothing, into Arthur, again.
But Arthur remembers, he remembers what Eames did, he remembers what Eames is like and Eames' memory is built back up form the last interaction, so that for every time Arthur dies, an Eames dies, and for every dream Arthur dreams, an Eames is born from the scraps of Arthur's memories.
It's after that one brief conversation, that everything turns upside down. Arthur looks back at him now, when before Eames simply watched, un-noticed from the side. It's a small weight that wasn't there before, but now that he'd made contact it presses on him each time. Eames can't get the courage to speak to him again, and no matter how strange and heavy that small gaze Arthur gives him is, he can't stop himself. He's forced to follow and forced to watch, accumulating nothing more than a long catalogue of images of Arthur's corpse.
Sometimes he feels cheated, sometimes he feels so frustrated at the Eames up there, who gets to see beyond that crumpled and bloody body at the end. Sometimes he gets so angry because the other him has the opportunity to revel in Arthur eating at his desk, sleeping softly to the low hum of the PASIV, tipping in his chair, sometimes smiling at the cutting phrases Eames says to their more stupid clients.
He gets all those moments and Eames gets nothing here. What Eames gets is silence, he gets that painful gaze Arthur pins him with that is too full of self- knowledge to be pity.
And sometimes, when he's behind a wall of glass looking out across a space too vast to cross, he admits it to himself, the real reason why Arthur could never see him as more than a simple projection.
He cannot fall in love with himself.