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as the crow flies

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It's an easy thing, not looking back. He packs his bags, shoves his laptop and a few books into a backpack, and makes sure he's got his favorite gun and knives. He's got his phone, he's got his Swiss bank accounts, he's got enough cash on him to buy a used car (no questions asked), a bottle of bourbon for the road, and a new coat. The last coat has bullet holes.

The car isn't a clunker, but it isn't a looker either, just something steady and purring and the Detroit steel rolls along with tires that aren't too old. It takes him two hours to get out of the city, two more hours to stop looking in the rearview, and two more to realize he's awake enough to drive through the night.

He stops for coffee and food at an all-night diner on some state border, all he knows is he's got a plate of over-easy eggs, hash browns, sausage, white toast with grape jelly at his elbow and the car sits in the parking lot, staring through the window like it's ready to hit the road again. He stops and texts Eames because Cobb walked away, Ariadne took her money back to school, Yusuf went to his bottles and the endless heat of Mombasa, Saito to his glass high rises and glasses of sake and cut-glass protection. He texts Eames because he and Eames are alike, they are proper thieves, and fuck, he even hears the phrase in Eames's voice, that slide of an accent, bloody hell and all that.

The waitress is named Phoebe, her tag pinned crooked as she pours Arthur more coffee and he asks, "Where are you from?"

She wrinkles her nose, wipes a hand on her apron. "Topeka. Why."

"Looking for somewhere to go," Arthur says, cutting into a yolk, yellow bleeding into the hash browns.

"Well, don't go to Topeka," Phoebe replies. "Keep on driving through. That's what most people do."

He thinks about it, it's almost like a life philosophy, almost like his, he's never stayed in one place too long, never, the family moving four times before he was ten, the military shuttling him to countries most people can't find on a map, then his job his work his life making him run constantly.

He runs. He likes it. The car in the parking lot agrees. If you're built to run, run.

He mops up the last of egg and hash browns with the toast, the sausage hitting greasy in his stomach and he texts Eames a date a week from now and a name: Chicago. The bastard will fly in from whatever shadowy alley he's calling home lately, probably out of sheer curiosity.

Curiosity killed the cat, but Arthur's never believed. He and Eames are still alive and they got into this business out of necessity and a specific skill set, but also out of curiosity.

The road and the car get along like a house afire and Arthur remembers being trapped in a burning house in a mark's mind, acrid smoke and the flames twisting like snakes because the mark had an overactive imagination; he still feels his wrists tingle where he was burned in the dream, Eames yanking him away and through a window, glass shattering around them like strange stars before they hit the ground.

Eames texts back, Don't go to Chicago to die, love. There's better places.

He wants a new house, a new last name, a new handful of months to just be, see how it feels to not run. He stops along the highways for the hell of it, sleeping in motel rooms that break his back because the mattress is broken from the bodies that have come before, all the people drinking crying sleeping lying fucking dying staring at the ceiling in an insomniac haze, all the people before, and he thinks, Fuck, I need a vacation.

He drives. The road carries him on, signs like pins on a map, and Arthur keeps the bottle of bourbon between his thighs, taking small sips as the sun tracks across the sky. He stops because he's drunk and he's pushed the car too fast too far and it makes him think of a bullet to the kneecap, a fall from a ten story building, Eames when he smiles.

If manifest destiny wasn't a screaming cry to run hellbent for freedom, then Arthur doesn't know the meaning of the phrase. Freedom is the horizon, the ability to take what he wants when he wants and not get caught because he's just a puff of tire smoke away from being a ghost. He takes what he has and drives, as if he's expecting an epiphany or salvation.

He lets himself chase the lanes, the lines bright at night and during the day, and he thinks maybe he's dreaming. The die comes up six every time he rolls it, but when he eases around Chicago's cabs and finds the Palmer House, when he walks to the elevator, walks to his room, sees himself in the mirror in jeans, crumpled button-down, stubble on his jaw, it doesn't feel real. He showers and jerks off and it still doesn't feel real.

Around eleven, he walks through the windy night to a nearby bar and waits. He knows Eames will find him. Arthur watches hockey on the big screens and drinks pints and waits.

Eames finds him. And the die comes up six.

Eames smiles in Arthur's hotel room, "of course you chose to stay here, darling, you aren't you if you aren't surrounded by glitz and mirrors, even in those clothes."

Arthur says, "I'm leaving tomorrow. Just going."

"And?"

"I can't hold a map and drive a car at the same time."

Smirking, a hand rubbing over his bottom lip, Eames replies, "Wouldn't do for you to die somewhere in middle of nowhere because you can't multitask. Not my efficient Arthur."

And this is what his trip is all about, driving to see nothing, driving so maybe he'll sleep again, so maybe he'll dream again, naturally, without the somnacin giving him waking hallucinations. This, with Eames flicking through the clothes in his bags, saying, "My my my, you wore this? I'm surprised you touched this, Arthur, let alone wore it against your delicate, money-loving skin."

He kisses Eames after that, lets Eames fuck him into the mattress in the ritzy hotel in the middle of Chicago, lets Eames drag him into the shower and make him come again, lets Eames behind the wheel of his tried-and-true car.

"Do not fucking wreck this car."

Eames grins like a naughty child. "Now which side do you Americans drive on? The wrong one? Ah, yes, and this is the accelerator and this is the brake and - Arthur, is this an automatic, there's no stick shift, is this an automatic, you bloody fuck, this is not a proper car." He glares at Arthur and slams out into midday traffic, ignoring the blaring horns.

Arthur wants a new home, a hat for his head and a place to hang it, he needs a new last name and a license plate with a state on it where he lives. He wants Eames to be there too to remind him how to run and why.

Arthur lets Eames drive, just drifts with the roll of the road, doesn't know where they're going until Eames says something about cheese and Arthur wakes enough to spit, "No, we are not fucking going to Wisconsin, what the hell, Eames."

"Never been. Don't you want to give me the tour of your lovely country? You are a terrible host. You fuck me and then don't show me your home?"

"Pull over, you stupid shit. Pull over."

They fuck on the shoulder of the road and there's no traffic, wherever the hell they are.

Eames says against his throat, "If we're getting lost, then let's fucking well get lost."

He starts the car, does a U-turn, and finds a different interstate. Eames chugs a bottle of Miller Lite in a honkytonk, he buys souvenir t-shirts, he sends Cobb a midnight text from Arthur's phone about the glories of his own cock, he takes pictures of Arthur and refuses to delete them.

As long as the car has fuel, this is what Arthur needs. His new baseball cap (Red Sox all the way) swings from the oh-shit bar above his head, the license plate changes state to state, and Eames is there every time he looks. They stick together in bed, in the car, in vinyl booths and noisy casinos, in petroleum museums and nature preserves.

They drive as if they aren't both carrying guns and knives and three passports apiece, and Arthur starts to sleep again.

Eames says, "You Americans," as they stand in the Infinity Room because somehow they ended up in Wisconsin.

And the die comes up six.