Eames never, never lets anyone forget that he trained at RADA. As if it actually means anything to Americans.
"Did you know," he’ll start off conversationally, out of the blue, "Patrick Stewart loved my Hamlet. When I did it at RADA. And could you turn down the brights, please? It's too bloody hot if I'm going to be arguing."
"Leave the lights on," Dom grits out at the light board operator. "We will not be arguing. We will be shooting."
"We absolutely will be arguing," Eames says, punctuating his plight with a comical stamp of his foot. It's comical not only in that it's childish and dramatic, but because Eames happens to be wearing a powder blue nightgown and a matching pom-pom-topped cap. “And I’d love to start shooting. Just not the kind you do with a camera.”
"Let's just get through this," Dom says, somehow managing to keep his voice steady, even while bloody murder is stewing just below the surface.
"Patrick Stewart loved my Hamlet, and Dominic Cobb disapproves of," pause for emphasis, "my Sleepy-Time song?"
This feels like as good a time as any for Arthur to jump in.
"We don't have any more time in the episode," he says from his hiding spot behind the monitor, where the lights are angled just so that nobody any closer to the soundstage can see him if they look out at the crew. Arthur likes it that way. "Between the planetary orbit dance and the asteroid song, we'd have to cut into our advertising time to fit anything else in. Which we will not be doing," he adds, even if it goes without saying that their little show wouldn't exist without their advertisers.
On a typical day, Arthur would stop and have a good laugh at how much money he is getting paid to say things like this with a straight face, to treat the issue of whether or not the puppets look too tribal in their feathered headbands, or if Eames' nightgown looks too much like a dress for them to escape the connotations that come from a flamboyant Brit prancing around in it, with utmost importance.
Arthur usually has a good laugh, and then goes out and treats himself to an expensive bottle of wine, or a thousand-dollar back massager. But this is no typical day. This is one of the days Eames has chosen to have a tantrum.
Actually, it's a pretty typical day and Arthur's just in denial, which is also typical.
"Besides, we've already established the bedtime routine," Arthur adds. "You don't break routine when you're ten episodes into a number one television show."
He allows himself a small smile, having momentarily rendered Eames speechless. Or at least momentarily silent. It's a toss up, but Arthur will take a not-talking Eames whenever he can get.
"But I wrote it myself," Eames whines, and Arthur thinks that there is really nothing the man is better suited for than children's television, what with him being but an overgrown child himself.
"Exactly," Arthur says, making his point.
"You are all awful, awful people," Eames says, sounding cheerful because he really does love this, the bickering, asserting his dominance, and ever single crew member indulging him because the ratings are through the fucking roof.
"You're not doing the song," Arthur says for good measure. Then, in case Eames still had questions as to whether or not they will resume shooting, Arthur calls "roll cameras", knowing Dom won't mind, as long as it gets Eames back into the scene.
Eames doesn't go back to the scene, though. Instead, he rolls up the sleeves of his nightgown and gives Camera C, and Arthur, watching on the monitor, the most aggressive double-middle-finger Arthur's ever seen.
Then he rips the nightcap off his head and throws it as hard as he can.
It doesn't go very far, what with the insufficient weight of the pom-pom. But coupled with Eames then storming off set, the gesture packs a punch.
Their little show, Mr. Eames and his Magical Dreams is currently the most watched children's program on television, and its lead actor, one Mr. Daniel Eames, never Daniel, always Eames, has become a star. Girls scream when they see him, tumblr blows up with pictures of him, and Arthur doesn't get it.
The show follows the adventures of an ordinary man, Eames, who goes to sleep every night only to be transported to otherwise impossible (and highly educational) worlds, and has been making headlines since its premier episode.
Eames, who used to be just a relatively unknown British stage actor, now has a billboard in Times Square. He is living in an apartment paid for and furnished by the CEO of PBS Kids. He is driven to work in a town car and he has his own dressing room with an adjoining bathroom that Eames claims has a jacuzzi. Arthur has no interest in ever finding out whether he's actually telling the truth about it.
As it goes, Arthur has little interest in anything to do with Eames. He had no say in hiring him, had not signed up to put up with Eames' diva antics. If he had, Mr. Eames and his Magical Dreams might never have existed. Eames might have stayed in England, might still have been playing Hamlet and yearning for Patrick Stewart's approval.
Arthur had no say in Eames getting hired because he hadn’t even been working at the time. Eames happened while Arthur was taking a two month leave for his mental health. That is to say, Arthur had a nervous breakdown.
The network execs were considerably miffed about the damage Arthur cost them when he went off the deep end, a few thousand dollars in broken windows, drywall, furniture and equipment, but Arthur was under contract and couldn't actually be fired for not being in his right mind. He checked himself into a nice little nuthouse a few hours upstate, got himself sorted out, and that was that.
Two months is a long time, though. Arthur was ready to accept whatever changes might have taken place while he was gone. Television was always changing, ebbing and flowing and staying on top of the trends, market research and viewer testing and ratings, ratings, ratings. Shows came and went. Arthur knew that. He expected to walk back into unfamiliar territory. What he didn’t expect, what he couldn’t possibly have prepared himself for, was Eames.
The first time Arthur saw him, Eames had shown up shirtless to a meeting, claiming to have been in the middle of a costume fitting, and everyone laughed at the charming (cocky) Englishman that Arthur didn’t know anything about.
The meeting went on as if nothing was amiss, Eames sounding bored and put upon whenever he was required to talk. Eames following his snappish responses with a wink or a smirk for redemption. Eames asking, flat-out, in the middle of publicity's speech, “Who’s the intern?”
Arthur had been confused, glancing around for any new, intern-looking people (they had a distinct look, interns) until he noticed that Eames was looking at him.
“Arthur's director of photography," Dom was quick to say, sparing a glance at Arthur as if to say, don't worry, I got this. Like he doesn't trust Arthur to be able to defend himself.
Two months ago, this would have pissed Arthur off. Two months ago, this would have sent Arthur to his office, snagging a wine key from the kitchen on his way back, pulling out one of his expensive bottles of wine and, well, drinking as much of it as he could. Now, though, Arthur is grateful for the reprieve of having to come up with something to say for himself, be it a witty comeback or just an honest answer. Had Dom not jumped in, Arthur would have been fucked, finding himself speechless under the scrutiny of Eames' narrowed eyes.
"What about Nash?" Eames said, unimpressed. "I liked Nash."
"Nash's contract was only good while Arthur was away," Dom said. "Arthur's back."
"Well... welcome back, Arthur," Eames said, through his teeth. Not very welcoming
"Thank you," Arthur said, feeling like he's just failed some important test. He spent the rest of the meeting avoiding Eames' gaze, and trying not to stare at his bare chest.
"Just let him do the damn song," Dom says, sounding old and incredibly tired. "He doesn't have to know we're not going to run it. Just make him happy, and we'll be able to crank out another few episodes before this one airs and he finds out."
"It's going to cost us," Arthur warns.
"Not as much as it would if we had to find a new star. Remember what happened to Blue's Clues?"
"No I do not remember what happened to Blue's Clues," Arthur says, just to make sure that Cobb knows, beyond a doubt, that he is not the kind of man who to sit at home and watch Blue's Clues, even if he does work for a kid’s show now. Even if he technically could pass it off as work-related research.
Dom has to spell it out for him, then. "The guy left to become a rockstar, or something, and the replacement never really took. The show never recovered."
Ten episodes in and they're already discussing the possibility of failure.
"Fuck," Arthur breathes, slicking his hair back with his hands, a nervous compulsion that he knows will only cause his hair to come undone from the solidified mass he's gelled into submission on top of his head. But he can't help it. And anyway, at least Eames can't see how nervous he is. Eames can't even see him, not with all those lights shining in his eyes. This is why Arthur likes lingering in the shadows behind the monitor.
Lingering, though. Not to be confused with hiding.
He realizes he shouldn't be as paranoid as he is about losing his job because of Eames, who was, until less than two months ago, just another struggling actor, while Arthur's been in the union and getting steady work for the last four years. It's funny. Not funny enough to laugh at, but funny enough to make Arthur take a step back and affirm that yes, this is his life.
"Just let him do it," Dom says again. "Let him feel important."
"He already feels important. He is important. Have you been to Times Square lately?"
"Right," Dom says. "Of course. Absolutely.”
Then Dom goes quiet, the kind of quiet that comes before the saying of something awkward and unpleasant.
“So,” Dom says, grimace showing through his strained smile, “how are you, Arthur?”
Two months ago, Arthur would have screamed. Now, he just twists his mouth up into a grimace of his own and says, “Yeah. Great.”
Eames is going to make them millions and millions of dollars. He is very important. Which is why the next five hours, and enough money to make Arthur choke on his salad when he reviews the figures over dinner, are spent shooting Eames' Sleepy-Time song.
"What would Patrick Stewart think?" Arthur remarks from his usual spot in the dark, unable to help himself. "What about all your classical training?"
Grinning like an exuberant five year old, Eames flips him off again.
The cameras are rolling. If they wanted to, any camera op, technician, editor, or even Arthur could have taken that clip, cut it down, put it on Youtube, and ended Eames’ career before it even got off the ground.
By the time the Outer Space Dreams episode airs, Eames has forgotten all about the Sleepy-Time Song. This is caused mainly by the fact that he's become something of a cult icon. Once your face is on tee-shirts being sold in every Hot Topic in America, you know not to mess with a good thing.
When Arthur got wind of the PR team's guerrilla plan to beef up the show's numbers, he kept his mouth shut, even though it might be in violation of PBS copyright. They set up a dummy account on Youtube, and started with just one clip: Eames in 1920's swim trunks, and a carnival dunk-tank that plunges him into the Mariana Trench, where all the mysterious and unknown deep sea life turned out to have charming mustaches and wore top hats and monocles and said “I say, good day, old chap!”
The clip went viral, viewers nearly doubled on the next episode that aired, Eames got tee-shirts and Arthur got a ridiculous raise. They all did, what with shiny new contracts commissioning them all to shoot another 30 episodes. Eames also nabbed appearances on all the major daytime talk shows, and a live show just in time for the holidays.
With Eames' looks - he's no Steve from Blue's Clues - it was only a matter of time. PR stunts or no, he would have probably made it onto a tee-shirt eventually.
Ariadne still has her arm up a puppet when Arthur runs into her.
"Hey," she says, breathless from the rehearsal, and grinning from ear to ear. "How're you holding up?"
Even though Arthur kept his nervous breakdown a secret, even though he's only known Ariadne for the month and a half he's been back at work, someone must have told her something because she's always asking Arthur how he is, how he's doing, with the assumption that that he's not alright.
Arthur just knows from the way she talks to him, he knows that she suspects something about him isn't all there, isn't all that stable.
"Fine," Arthur says, and snaps his mouth shut once he sees what Ariadne is wearing. It's a tee-shirt, it's hot pink, and it's got Eames' face taking up the whole front, Eames' ridiculous smile, all teeth and no shame, spreading across her waist.
He must be making an obvious time of staring at said shirt, because Ariadne takes a step back and does a dainty little twirl. "You like?"
"I’ll admit. It's..." Arthur says, glancing behind him to make sure Eames isn't lurking anywhere nearby, before deciding, "terrifying."
"Oh, don't be such a hater," Ariadne teases, punching him playfully in the arm with her puppet's head. "So Eames is a problem. Doesn't change the fact that we’ve got all these hilarious tee shirts now."
It awkward. Ariadne and Eames are actually sort of friends. Ariadne is friends with everyone, that's how she is. But she is the only person to directly talk about this weird thing that somehow seems to exist between Eames and Arthur.
"It's not a problem," Arthur says, trying to be nice, for Ariadne's sake. "He's just... annoying."
"Annoying? Come on, Arthur, don’t be coy. He's a superstar, he’s a pain in the ass," Ariadne says, her tone speaking of nothing but fondness for her celebrity friend. "And poor you for having to wrestle with his Sleepy-Time genius all the time.”
"Genius?" Arthur says dubiously.
With a laugh, Ariadne scoops him into a strange, three-body hug: herself, Arthur, and the puppet. And Eames too, Arthur supposes, as Ariadne's tiny body presses the offending shirt against his chest.
There's a package waiting for Arthur when he gets home that night. It's always refreshing, getting mail that isn't a bill or a coupon or a jury duty summons, especially after a three hour talk with the writers to make sure they're devoting at least some of the show's time to actual education, rather than just giving Eames interesting stuff to do and feeding the fandom.
"It's a kids show," Arthur had said, exhaustion creeping into his voice. "There are, of course, certain liberties we can take that just wouldn't fly in any other situation. But come on. Have a little dignity."
Robert, the head writer, who is wearing the green version of Eames' tee-shirt, frowned at his notes, then frowns back up at Arthur.
"So, you're telling me that you're not going to use the Rock Star dream? Any of it?"
Arthur just felt even more tired, as he reached across the table and takes the legal pad out of Robert's hands, tearing out the notes on the dream that would put Eames in violet leather pants and singing about the music industry, while backed by a band of puppets.
In violet leather pants.
"Are you kidding me?" Arthur had said, before ripping the paper to microscopic shreds.
And now, three hours later, Arthur really should have known better than to expect anything other than this, anything other than a banana-yellow tee-shirt with Eames' face printed across the front.
Staring at him, that crooked smile and those crinkly eyes and that face, like he's just about to laugh at Arthur for being such a...
No, Arthur decides, he's not going to let this tee shirt thing bother him. So what if he receives a gift that he doesn't much care for? That's really all it is (at least, that's all it is, if Arthur wants to look at it from the perspective of a sane person). "So fucking funny," he mutters to Eames' psychotic smile, balling up the shirt and shoving it back into its packaging so violently that he slices his knuckle open on the envelope.