Mike Jones (real name redacted, he's not a fucking idiot) first heard about Arthur in 2006. Or finger-quotes Arthur, as Mike Jones tended to think about him back then. It was in Jordan, during a sandstorm, and he was riding it out with a bunch of sheep when he heard the unmistakable sounds of someone getting the shit beat out of him on the other side of the stone pen. The guy was taking the dramatic route to death's door, to be heard over the pelting sand. When the winds died down the next morning, Jones found the corpse heavily eroded by sand and wind just a couple paces from the entrance to the pen.
"That's bad luck, mate," Jones told it, and knelt to rummage through the dead man's pockets. He found the stub of a Chap-Stick (too fuzzy), a bent coin (for someplace called Chuck E. Cheese) and a tiny scrap of paper with one word, 'Arthur,' written on it, along with a large 'X.'
"Rest in peace, 'Arthur,'" Jones said to the corpse.
"Baaaa," the sheep responded. Later, Jones would think back to that moment and realize that when the sheep said "baaaa" what they really meant was "you're a fucking moron, Jones."
A year later, Jones was hiding in a closet with a bloke named Bob Monroe (that probably was his real name, wanker; he was way too vain to have people yell a fake name during sex) while Matilda, the woman they'd both been sleeping with, ran interference with her husband. Jones was in a bit of a strop; he'd been eating Matilda out while Monroe fucked her arse, but had anyone been attending him? No! At least he wasn't in physical pain, like Monroe. His balls were literally blue. And ugly. And now the idiot was whimpering and Matilda's husband was going to find them. Which, okay, Jones could probably take him, but there was just something so undignified about the whole situation. So he did the only thing he could do. He took Monroe into his mouth and sucked.
"Thank God!" Monroe moaned. "I haven't been in this much pain since I was working that job with Arthur a couple months ago."
Arthur. The name tickled something in his memory, like Monroe's pubes tickled his face, and had he never heard of personal grooming? Jones shot him frowny eyebrows, which Monroe took to mean, "please, do continue with your inane story."
"Man's a fucking cocktease with his suits and his jailbait ass. Perfect ass..." Monroe's voice trailed off, not because he realized how gauche he was being, talking about another man's arse while getting a blowjob, but because he was shooting his load down Jones's throat and Monroe was a silent gasper. Wanker.
Arthur. The name left a bitter taste in Jones's mouth, and not just because Monroe should really eat more grapefruit.
"Mi amigo! Me gusta los pantalones!"
Jones grimaced. What was he doing, working with Nash again? Sloppy attention to detail, that's what it was. If he couldn't get his Spanish grammar right, Jones didn't hold out much hope for meticulous architecture in the dream world.
"Fuck off, Nash," Jones said. Of course he didn't. They were in the only bar in Pelo, Mexico.
"You're funny. I don't just mean because of that thing on your face..." Nash hiccuped. "Sorry. That was rude, right?"
"Only if I'm human."
"Hahaha. See? Funny." Nash eyed him beadily. "Hey, what are you doing here, anyway? Did Arthur send you?"
Jones gestured the bartender over for a cerveza. "I'm no one's messenger boy. Why's he looking for you?"
"Ah, well, to be honest, he said he'd only work with me again if I was the last architect on the planet, but I mean, come on! He broke out of that jail just fine, with just a spoon and a ball of twine!"
Jones gave him a slow look. Nash was a fucking idiot. "You're a fucking idiot. Where was the jail?"
Nash winced. "Uh, Russia."
"He broke out of a Russian jail?"
"Um. Yeah. It was for the criminally insane."
"Well, Nash." Jones chugged his beer in one go. "I'm not gonna lie and say it was nice knowing you."
The stories about the mysterious Arthur got more outlandish after 2008. The man had briefly fallen off the grid, only to reappear with Dom Cobb, whom everyone in the dream world knew was a fucking powder keg waiting to blow. While working a job in Hong Kong, Jones heard that Arthur was responsible for the kidnapping of a famous Hollywood actress, who'd then fallen in love with him and wanted to make him her kept man. In Nevada, Jones was quite seriously informed that Arthur and Cobb were traveling through Asia freeing all the dancing bears. He was hanging by his knees while trying to hack a drug kingpin's computer in South America when he accessed a file tracing the whereabouts of Arthur and Cobb through Greenland. What the fuck could they be doing in Greenland? According to a high chemist he encountered in Mongolia, they'd been setting up a camp to train super soldiers. No, a woman in Cambodia told him, they were manufacturing blackmarket PASIV's there. No, a man in South Africa told him fervently. They were setting up their own commune there, Cobb with his kids and Arthur with the love of his life, a Countess from England. But the strangest tale of all came in 2010, when Jones was told, in hushed whispers over a pot of congee in Toronto, that Arthur and Cobb had achieved inception.
It wasn't until 2011 that Jones got to meet the legend for himself. The truth, he soon realized, was stranger than fiction.
He was enjoying a watered-down pint in an Irish pub in Singapore when two men walked in and sat down on either side of him at the bar. Jones's hackles rose. Though he'd never met the man, he had a very clear mental image of what Arthur would look like. The tall, dark eyed man with the slicked back hair and the ageless face was pretty damn close. If Jones survived long enough to stand up, he was definitely going to check out the arse and see if that also lived up to expectation. He had no clue who the other man was, hired muscle, perhaps. Though if even half the stories were true, Arthur had no need to hire additional muscle.
Arthur, if that was indeed who he was, glanced down at Jones's pint and signaled the bartender. "Two of the same, but not watered down this time."
Jones resisted the urge to shiver. Arthur had a sexy voice, even if the accent was American. He decided to play this cool. "Sorry, have we met?"
"No, and that's a bit odd, wouldn't you agree? Small industry and all that," replied the other bloke. A fellow Brit, brilliant. Jones gave him a cursory look. Arthur allowed his hired help to contribute to business dealings? At least, he thought this was a business dealing. "Know you by reputation, of course," the bloke continued, "else we wouldn't be sitting with you at this little anachronistic pub with the charming leprechaun decor."
Jones quickly reordered his thoughts. The other bloke had to be a business partner. Since when did Arthur the Great work with a partner? Other than Cobb, of course. He wondered if this one had also murdered his wife.
"I believe you have me at a disadvantage, mate," Jones said.
The friendly expression slowly faded off his companion's face. "Don't worry about it, Arthur," he said with a sigh. "Can't win 'em all."
"Oh, I've heard of Arthur here," Jones said. "It's you who's the mystery. You some kind of bodyguard?"
Arthur made a noise that sounded like a cross between a dying cat and a snorfling pig, and coughed into his hand, his face getting a bit red. The other bloke, though, looked like Jones had just stabbed him in the chest and twisted the knife.
"Eames!" he said, indignant, all trace of a smile wiped clean. "You can't be serious! You've never fucking heard of me?"
"Can't win 'em all, Eames," Arthur murmured. There was a hint of a dimple in his cheek. Jones decided right there that yeah, he'd hit that, even if the arse was a complete lie.
"Bloody hell!" Eames exclaimed, gaining steam. "I only fucking pioneered forging! You've heard of the Babaloo Brothers Job? I played Neil Babaloo on one week's notice! One week! I've forged the bloody Queen of England! I'm wanted in twelve countries!"
"A fact you may not want to broadcast, Eames," Arthur cut in quietly.
"Terribly sorry, mate," Jones said with a smirk. "I don't like working with forgers."
"You don't -- Arthur!" Eames exclaimed.
Arthur sat his pint carefully on the bar and stood up. Jones's eyes flicked down. Fuck, but Arthur was a damn fine handsome man.
"Sorry to trouble you, Jones," Arthur said crisply. "Enjoy your pint."
Jones watched them leave with his mouth hanging slightly open. What the fuck?
Jones tailed them. He had a feeling he'd failed spectacularly at a job interview. It did not sit well with him. Of course, Arthur being Arthur, after an hour of following them through narrow alleyways and broad avenues packed with people, he lost them. It was just like one of his favorite Arthur stories -- Arthur had been chased by police, the military and one irate father through a marketplace in Morocco, and managed to slip out by hopping from roof to roof and then stowing away on a Portuguese fishing boat. Or that time Arthur had given the slip to a group of nuns in a Swiss convent. It slowly dawned on Jones that he was grinning like a loon and fanboying Arthur in the middle of the road. He was going to get flattened by a rickshaw if he didn't haul his arse out of the way.
He made his way back to his hotel and immediately began contacting sources for information on the mysterious Eames.
Jones blinked his eyes wearily at his iPhone's screen. That could not be right. All night long, he'd watched as stories had rolled in about one Mr. Eames – Eames impersonating a Baptist minister, Eames drinking tea with a duchess, Eames advising the Dalai Lama, Eames escaping a Siberian jail with the aid of a toothpick and a rubber band. Most interesting of all were Eames's known associates – Cobb, an architect named Ariadne who sounded vaguely familiar, Yusuf the chemist (who Jones knew quite well), and Arthur. Arthur, widely reported to be Eames's lover. How this had escaped Jones, he could not imagine. But he had surely bollocksed up ever working with Arthur by inadvertently insulting his lover. Fuck.
He had a feeling that Arthur, who'd (allegedly) pulled a man's eyeball out of its socket for insulting his footwear, would not be one to forgive.
Jones might want to think about getting out of town.
He was just applying a fake mustache when Eames appeared in his bathroom mirror. Jones wound up with a curly auburn sideburn across the bridge of his nose.
Once they'd both stopped yelling, and Jones had put down his glue and Eames had lowered his gun, they joined Arthur in the bedroom. Arthur was standing on the bed, checking the light fixtures for bugs.
"There's nothing there, I'm not a fucking moron!" Jones snapped, then bit his tongue. It was a miracle he'd survived this long. No need to further provoke the man. He wondered idly if Arthur still kept a needle for scrambling brains up his sleeve, or if he switched things up at all.
"You'll forgive me if I do my own check, Mr. Jones," Arthur answered mildly, but still, Jones nearly peed his pants. Sure, they'd said they knew who he was at the bar, but to actually hear his name on Arthur's tongue… he shook his head, irritated with himself. "It's clean," Arthur announced, and jumped lightly to the floor.
"Right, that's settled." Eames sat down in one of the chairs at the little round table and gestured impatiently for Jones to sit in the other. Arthur sat on the edge of the bed and crossed his legs. He and Eames exchanged an unreadable glance, and then Arthur began to speak.
"We're here, Mr. Jones, for two reasons. One, we have never worked together; there is nothing to tie us to you, or vice versa. And two –" He paused and looked back at Eames.
"We'd like to retire," Eames finished.
Jones blinked. "When you say retire—"
"We mean no one finds us again," Eames interrupted.
"And you're asking me because you don't give a shit if I get tortured for the information."
"Yes, exactly." Eames leaned back in his chair and gave him a satisfied nod. "You're a smart one, Jonesie."
"Eames." Arthur scowled. "No. We're coming to you to be a credible witness to the dream community, one that has nothing to gain from our lives or our deaths. And because no one would even think to ask you what happened to us."
Jones frowned. "What's in it for me?"
"A substantial sum of money," Arthur answered.
"I'm a thief. Money isn't a problem."
Arthur's expression didn't change. "Rhys Anthony Smith, born in Cardiff, Wales, on May 5, 1974. Parents now deceased; one sister, Carys, married to Hwl Williams, and two nephews, Ifan and Bob, still live in Cardiff, residing at 624 Cooper Street. It's about a five minute walk to the closest Tesco. When you were eight years old, you carved your initials in a tree outside your school. That tree still stands there."
Jones swallowed hard.
"I've left your full dossier with Dominic Cobb. As insurance," Arthur continued, in his calm, clipped voice. Jones seriously considered throwing up right there.
"Bit of a turn-on when he does his thing, am I right?" Eames stage-whispered to him.
"Fuck you both," Jones rasped.
"But you'll take the job," Arthur stated.
"Think of it this way, Jonesie." Eames abruptly leaned forward in his chair, hunching over the table. He looked big enough to snap Jones like a twig, and Jones was not a small man. "You'll get to write the official ending."
Jones thought they should stage a murder-suicide, for the dramatic effect. They both nixed that idea. ("I'm not going down in history as Eames' murderer," Arthur said, a muscle twitching in his jaw.) Next he floated a circle-of-life concept, with a phantom young upstart getting the drop on the two old-timers. ("And I'm not going down in history as a fucking complacent old-timer," Eames snapped.) Poisoned Somnacin had its appeal, but that left the bodies too intact to fake. When writing the final chapter of a legend, Jones needed something that sounded definite, but also left just the slightest air of mystery, like maybe they would come back. ("You're missing the point," Arthur said exasperatedly. "We don't want anyone to come looking!")
They finally all agreed on a classic: walk into a building, and it blows up. That would take care of the bodies. There was even a stretch of abandoned warehouses outside the city that they could use. The warehouses belonged to a shady businessman who'd wanted to work with Arthur and Eames in the past, but they'd turned him down due to his alleged link to human trafficking.
"But this time," Jones said excitedly, "you lot will agree to at least meet with him. But you're planning to doublecross him! So you die all noble. And he didn't catch on at all – the bomb was intended for him! There are lots of radical groups that would love to take credit for offing this bastard, that's not a problem. Except that he wasn't there yet, so you set off the bomb and exploded in his place. A tragic accident. And I was here to corroborate because… because he thought it would have to be a three-man job, and I had just arrived. That way I can be on clean-up, you die honorably and maybe someone is so upset by the mistake that they do us all a favor and off this fucker. A triple win!"
Jones finally paused for breath. Arthur and Eames exchanged a glance, then turned in unison to look at him. It was a little creepy.
"Let's do it."
It was actually the smoothest a plan had ever gone for Jones, probably due to Arthur's touch. Jones practically salivated to see the legend in action. At least he got a few days to satisfy his curiosity. The two of them were actually quite domestic, not at all what Jones had been expecting – exchanging quick kisses in the warehouse as they rigged the bomb, bickering in low voices over cartons of takeout, tunelessly humming the same song as they rigged the DNA evidence. Even legends fell in love and settled down, Jones supposed, but it wasn't at all how he was expecting Arthur's legend to end. Honestly, he was a little disappointed, and was a little glad that he was the only one who would know the truth.
Ten Years Later
Jones had been eating out on the story of 'The Dramatic Explosion of Arthur & Eames' for the last ten years. The stories about the life and death of Arthur (and Eames) grew and morphed with each telling. Arthur was about 6'6" now and had laser eyes. Eames could squash a man's head between his hands. (Jones had seen his hands. That one might have been true.) As for Jones, he pictured the two of them living together on some remote cabin in the woods somewhere way up north, miles and miles from any other form of civilization.
So it came as a bit of a shock to him to see, after stepping out onto his balcony in a hotel room in Crete, two men who could only be Arthur and Eames, on the roof of a building below him. He squinted into the sun. At least he thought it was Arthur and Eames. He'd never seen them naked before, and they were most definitely naked now. Ten years, and Arthur's arse was everything Jones had dreamed it to be, muscles flexing as he slowly thrust into the man beneath him. Jones couldn't hear anything from this far away. He wondered if, like Monroe, they kept calling each other by their real names. He wondered if 'Arthur' and 'Eames' were their real names. He wondered if they ever talked about him
during sex at all. He wondered if they had any regrets.
No, Jones thought, watching Eames reach up and pull Arthur down to him so he could suck kisses along Arthur's jawline, legends didn't do regrets. It's what made them fucking legends.
He stepped back into his room and slid the screen door closed behind him. He was hungry. It was time to find someone new to wow with the story of Arthur and Eames and Their Dramatic and Very Tragic Demise.