They were doing a laid back practice session.
It was an easy assignment, an easy job so they simply wanted to go under and do some experiments, testing one of Yusuf’s new but supposedly more toned-down compounds.
Unfortunately, they chose to go into Eames’ mind for the run.
The issue was that he had, in the last few months, come down with a bad case of the blues.
Otherwise known as lovesickness.
Almost everyone knew that he and Arthur had some tension between them of the good and sometimes bad variety. Although professional at all times when pertinent, the squabbles and bickering couldn’t be helped. The two men were like a pair of chemicals; with unequal amounts yielding sometimes passive but professional and respectful camaraderie and other times energetic, passionate sarcasm and cynical banter. But when equal, the two came together like a well-oiled, perfectly matched machine and could not help but attract like the polar ends of a magnet. Balanced opposites, they were similar in almost every way that they differed. And it was comically obvious that their two personalities tended to gravitate to each other no matter their mood.
Over time though, tension began to give way to blunt attraction, and then eventually amorous feelings.
At least, for Eames that is.
He had passed the giddy crush stage – where he relentlessly teased, pranked, and invaded Arthur’s personal bubble with overly animated gestures and innuendos. Now heavy with lovesickness, the usually flamboyant, smiling and comedic Forger was now apathetic. He had less to say outside of job details and unless it had to do with business, most other interactions had ceased.
So when Cobb said that they would first practice in Eames’ dream, he tried to hide his nervousness. With the sensitive state he had slipped into, he wasn’t sure how his subconscious would behave. Would it be volatile? Distressing? Would it falter and betray too much?
So in the few minutes he had to prepare while the others looked over papers and got situated into their chairs, Eames got as comfortable in his seat as he could and willed his body to relax, for his emotions to steel themselves and for his mind to reach some level of zen and quickly. He was about to say the Serenity Prayer to himself when Yusuf reached over and pressed the plunger.
Fresh, moist air greeted his senses when he opened his eyes and they were standing in the middle of a field. The grass was knee high and the immediate area was rugged with sloping hills. A cool and gentle breeze blew, combing through their hair and making the grass flutter in the wind.
The sky was cloudy and looked like rain.
Well, serenity – check? Hopefully those clouds weren’t temperamental…
“Uh okay… this is interesting,” Cobb said behind him, trying not to laugh.
Araidne wasn’t so tactful.
“Wow Eames, maybe you should tell these clouds to turn their frowns upside down or something,” she said as she tried to keep her hair and scarf from flying over her face. Everyone was glancing around them, searching for… well, anything but there didn’t seem to be much by way of civilization. Yusuf pulled his jacket tighter around himself and of course, Arthur remained nonplussed, gelled hair not moving even a millimeter.
Eames shifted from foot to foot awkwardly. He picked at his lips and cleared his throat.
“Um… whoops,” he said intelligently.
Cobb walked past him and bumped his shoulder.
“Why don’t you lighten up a little, yeah?”
Something in Eames snapped and he shot the Extractor a nasty look.
A smooth, deep voice from right behind him spoke lightheartedly. “I thought you knew how to have fun, Mr. Eames,”
He spun around and Arthur smirked at him, almost challenging him.
Alright, fine. Challenge accepted.
He straightened up and nodded at everyone.
“Alright then, if that’s what you want. Let’s go party,” he nodded into the distance and turned and began jogging off through the field.
His teammates looked perplexed but started off into a light run after the Brit.
That’s the awesome thing about dreams – you can literally materialize anything.
The sky seemed to darken and night fell upon the area and as they came up over a hill, a large, beautiful metropolis loomed before them, out of nowhere.
They all laughed and Ariadne cheered, “Now that’s more like it!”
Eames turned and smirked, looking satisfied with himself.
As they walked through the city, they marveled at the fact that no detail had been spared. Each building seemed to glow from the inside out; each seemed to have different color themes as marble and glass glittered and light bounced off every skyscraper and high rise.
He led them to a tall, dark building, shaped like a large cylinder made of granite that shimmered like the stars above their heads, and the clouds disappeared, much like Eames’ damp mood. They stopped as there was no door and Eames tilted his head, humming, and then a glass door suddenly appeared and it swiveled open. He motioned for them to step inside with him.
It was an elevator, spacious enough for all five of them to stand and to not feel cramped. They faced outward towards the city and then were lifted up, the slow ascent giving them an opportunity to survey Eames’ handy work; the product of his kaleidoscope of an imagination taking shape in the form of this dazzling urban playground, buildings of blue and green and pink and yellow as far as the eye could see.
Arthur stood next to Eames and gave him a toothy smile, eyebrows shooting upward.
“Eames… I’m impressed,” he murmured.
He put a finger against the taller man’s lips.
“I’m afraid you speak too soon, Arthur,” he smirked smugly and his smirk spread into a grin as the lift came to a stop and the doors slid open. He stepped back and ushered the gawking team out.
“Alright darlings – let’s dance!”
All thoughts and agendas relating to business were promptly forgotten.
It was a party on the roof of a skyscraper.
The floor of the roof was one big screen that flashed with multicolored designs and it seemed like the music came from that very floor, like one large speaker system that they stood upon. The music was an exotic array of house, trance, jazz, rock and percussion; no discernible band or singer or genre; just a scintillating orgy of sounds and melodies that didn’t end nor began.
There were people of all races and ages dancing and having a wonderful time. Couples moved together sensually, groups of children and teenagers flailed, bounced and danced about with joyful abandon. Some were dressed in casual street clothes and some donned only the best suits and gowns money could probably buy.
It was definitely fun, and as expected, impressive.
The team was almost immediately disbanded. A group of teenagers and younger adults waved Ariadne over and immersed her into their little circle and a group of children ran up to Cobb and Yusuf and literally dragged them into some form of jive that resembled the hokey pokey; the men couldn’t help but giggle as their joy was more than a little contagious.
Eames’ mood had certainly lifted; the projections were quite amiable and seemingly under control.
Arthur just stood back admiring all of the revelers, smiling as he saw how happy they all looked, completely carefree and oblivious to anything but this symphonic, rainbow spectrum of a fantasy on top of the world that nearly touched the stars.
He suddenly noticed that Eames had completely disappeared.
He began to make his way through the throng of party-goers, searching for the man that had effectively changed his personal definition of ‘impressed’. One point for Eames then, he supposed.
When he found him, he nearly dropped dead in astonishment as he watched Eames sidle up to a projection of Arthur himself.
He was glued to the floor. The music had faded somewhat into a semi-sensual alternative jazz mix, thus the peoples’ movements had all begun to melt into a slow groove.
The Forger and the Other Point Man weren’t exactly wrapped up together as much as standing with each other. They swayed gently with the music and occasionally bumped shoulders or brushed hands. Each would stare into the others’ eyes softly, almost shyly. Eames seemed to get lost in the dark eyes of the younger man, gazing dreamily. Then his projection stepped back and with a smirk, twirled dramatically and with classic grace and both men’s faces burst into grins that were as bright as the dance floor.
Arthur swore he could hear their mirth from where he stood, frozen, as he saw how the men seemed to look at each other virtually lovingly.
Something clicked in Arthur’s mind and all of a sudden a lot of things made sense and he felt embarrassed for not noticing before. He took pride in his role as a Point Man, his job being to notice and unscramble and analyzing every detail. He was aware of how the other man’s interactions with him had changed, nearly concluding altogether. These days he seemed down-hearted, indifferent and resigned whenever they were grouped on a team. His mood in the beginning of this dream was testament.
Arthur blinked hard and he turned his attention back to the pair who were more or less shoulder to shoulder, side by side and holding hands, faces down-turned. They weren’t looking at each other but they were leaning against one another, still moving as one in time with the beat of the music in the air.
The intense, heated tingle that pulsed in his chest and spread throughout his body seemed to bring Arthur some sort of affirmation as he realized how peaceful Eames looked with his partner – with Arthur.
And right then and there he felt the desire to take his own place next to Eames.
The music halted abruptly, startling everyone. They stopped and glanced around as the clouds started to roll in and the ethereal lights of the city began to flicker.
Their time on the clock was about to end.
Arthur kept his eyes on the pair, who had also paused, and he noticed that his colleague looked forlorn, his expression faltering again, and Arthur felt that thing in his chest repeat itself. His projection simply regarded the blond calmly and as the lights flickered radically, the sound of thunder reverberated in the distance and people began to disperse. He forced himself not to lose sight of them until it was too late…
The projection squeezed Eames’ hands and smiled as he leaned in and with noses and foreheads touching, gave him an affectionate bump. This in turn brought a kind of smile to Eames’ face that Arthur had never seen before nor could he name.
At that moment, Eames turned and vanished into the crowd and just as his projection turned to make off in the opposite direction, the replica turned and found Arthur’s gaze and held it intently.
Arthur couldn’t fight the gasp that escaped him as he stared into the identical eyes of himself and he realized that the projection had known he was there all along. The way those brown eyes bore into his, the force that bound them gave him a sense that something was happening, the way he was being hit by a stare of purpose…
…and then the world went black and he everything fell away from him.
He awoke dazed in his lawn chair, already registering a crick in his neck. He looked around and felt quick relief when he saw that he was the only Point Man in the room.
Everyone had smiles on their face. Ariadne looked flushed and out of breath as she grinned at Eames, who was shaking his head free of sleep.
“Holy shit, that was better than any party I’ve seen on campus!” She stood and practically skipped over to the small corner kitchen to fetch some bottled water. Yusuf and Cobb stood and stretched; backs and joints popping as they moved.
“Well,” said Cobb. “Let it never be said that Mr. Eames has no imagination.”
As Ariadne returned with the refreshments, the Chemist chuckled.
“You might have even given Arthur a run for his money there.”
“You think so, Yusuf?” Arthur asked as he accepted a bottle from Ariadne. “Well how about we put that to the test tomorrow?” he glanced at Eames and winked.
Dom threw his head back and everyone laughed heartily in unison.
Eames removed and cleaned his cannula and put it away. He stretched his legs and put his hands behind his head, relaxing and looking pointedly at Arthur. “Is this going to be an ongoing challenge then, darling?”
Arthur grinned like the cat with a canary diet and replied surely. “Yes.”
Eames pursed his lips and tried to hold back a giggle.
“Even though it wasn’t a very productive afternoon,” Cobb announced. “It was quite entertaining.”
The statement seemed genuine; it was nice to see that Dom had managed to shrug off a little of his heaviness for the last few hours. His smile was definitely not forced as he spoke again.
“This job doesn’t actually need to be completed until the end of the weekend so how about we call it a night and regroup tomorrow afternoon?”
“Sounds good to me,” Yusuf replied gathering up his things, Cobb and Ariadne doing the same.
Arthur and Eames nodded and both went to gather their belongings as well. Arthur packed up the PASIV and grabbed his briefcase and Eames went to a corner and retrieved the small bag that he had brought with him that day.
They said their farewells for the evening and just as the others slipped into the stairwell, Arthur stepped in front of Eames, interrupting his path to the door.
“You’re on,” he said, moving into the man’s personal space, earning him a momentarily confused blink in return.
“Imagination challenge accepted. You’re on,” he clarified, nodding, and dared to move an inch closer. He saw Eames swallow and then gather himself, straightening his posture and jutted his chin out.
“I don’t think you realize what you’re getting yourself into, love” he said softly.
“Oh… I think I do,” Arthur whispered back with a small, half-dimpled smile and leaned in. With noses and foreheads touching, he gave Eames an affectionate bump, lingering a brief moment for effect before pulling away. He saw Eames’ expression buckle, utterly dumbfounded and steel-blue eyes widen in shock; it was beyond Arthur’s power to stop his smile from sprouting into a beaming grin.
He turned and fled quickly out the door and took the stairs two at a time chuckling, satisfied as he knew his first step had been taken.