When Eames falls back into Arthur’s bed, he wants to blame the rush of adrenaline and the lightheaded giddiness that followed them off the flight from Sydney. It’s not fair to him or Arthur, he knows this, but it’s as good an excuse as any and he’s accustomed to lying.
But he’s running out of excuses for how they keep up after that -- how he trails after Arthur to his next job in Scotland, the way that Arthur shows up just in time to pull him out of a job in Niger. The way he ends up with a key for Arthur’s New York loft and Arthur thinks nothing of breaking through the security for Eames’ flat.
It’s different now than it was before, when they were younger and angrier, more discreet. Now they’re a poorly kept secret in the dreamshare world. That rankles him but not Arthur and both these reactions surprise him.
Arthur is always most careful when protecting something and while this extends to Eames it rarely reaches himself. This rankles too -- Eames gravitates to Arthur because he can take care of himself, and Eames can admit that in his weaker moments, he wants Arthur to take care of him too.
Still, they’re adult enough that even with exclusivity the expectations are low. Eames keeps his to these: he expects Arthur to be self-sufficient, unemotional, and easy to keep relatively casual (for a generous definition of casual that involves both sleeping and dreaming together).
Eames is wrong, though. Not about Arthur, who can be alone for days at a time when Eames drop off the radar. But he’s wrong about his own need for closeness. His budding desire for more of the affection Arthur cloaks in each sarcastic reply or open-mouthed kiss.
When he doesn't have the proximity of Arthur to curl warmly at his side, typing through all the best scenes, he doesn't watch TV.
This is how Ariadne’s call finds him, brooding over that week’s Scientific American in an apartment he and Arthur shared when they were both in the east coast of the US.
“Where’s Arthur?” she says instead of hello, and he shouldn’t be surprised by the panic that jumps through his chest but he is.
“I haven’t heard from him,” he says carefully, “he was supposed to call once he got to the hotel.”
“Well something’s wrong,” she snaps, and Eames finally has a reason other than being pathetic for feeling uncomfortable in his skin.
“What time was he supposed to see you?” Eames asks, flipping open his laptop and drumming his hands against the coffee table as it boots.
“An hour ago -- no phone call, no texts, no emails. No communication from unknown numbers either. I told the extractor that Arthur’s plane got rerouted because I figured you’d know what the hell was going on.”
Eames is already typing. “It looks like he checked into his flight and there were no incidents in the air, so he’s nearby. Who else is nearby, Ariadne?”
She gets defensive. “Why do you need to know? What do you think’s going on? Is something going on that you haven’t told me about?”
“Stop panicking. I’m on it.”
Ariadne is waiting for Arthur in Jo’berg, and it’s not hard to pull a few strings and get a listing of other jobs in the area. There aren’t many teams operating out of sub-Sarahan Africa, and Yusuf’s in Kenya and still talking to him.
There’s most worrying blip on the radar is an extractor named Martinez, who’s been picking up the jobs that Eames or Arthur pass over. She’s been making a good name for herself and there’s a rumor that she and her usual point have just flown out of Swaziland. She’s using a phone he’s sure is already burned, but Eames has learned a lot in his years in dreamshare.
“Stay put,” he tells Ariadne. He’s going to go with his gut on this one.
Bogota, Colombia: A Memory
“It’s a liability,” he says over Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur’s shaving, meticulous with a straight razor. It made Eames nervous to talk to him while shaving at first, but now it’s old hat -- Eames toweling off, Arthur’s face full of lather.
Arthur looks at him in the mirror, his face wry and eyebrows raised. “That’s not how you felt last month, in Barcelona. Our extractor, how’d she put it? Thought we could learn some discretion.”
Eames glares into the mirror, pulling on briefs. “I was drunk,” he protests, but it’s not very convincing.
Arthur smirks, then looks back in the mirror, pulling the blade over the underside of his jaw, and then says. “Yeah, okay. So you’re a liability.”
Eames snorts. “Sure, okay, because I’m the one secretly hunting online for titanium rings.”
He gets an eyebrow raise for that, so he says earnestly, “I’m being serious here. Y-We won’t be safe for much longer if this level of...intimacy keeps up.”
Arthur scrapes the last of the lather off his jaw. “Why get serious now all of a sudden?”
Eames crosses his arms and slumps against the wall. The bathroom isn’t really big enough to fit them both, but they always seem to get their best talking done in the morning. Eames thinks it’s partially how unguarded Arthur looks in sleep -- it lulls him into thinking that Arthur would ever pull a punch.
“You can’t keep bringing that up; I ran the one time --”
Arthur cuts him off by kissing him. His breath is cold, fresh and minty from his toothpaste and his skin smells nice. Some kind of masculine wood scent.
“I know, I know. You came back. But.” Here he falters, eyes darting away from Eames’ for a moment. “I just think the risk is worth it, if we can work together. I watch your six, you watch mine. Even if we weren’t together, I’d rather work as a team, you know that.”
Eames does know that. Eames thought it was a great idea right until he panicked about the intimacy, the implications of that intimacy, and fucked off and got himself shot in a risky job in Siberia. Arthur pulled him out of the snow, cursing and spitting mad and worried
It wasn’t like Arthur had the moral high ground -- how many times had Eames pulled Arthur’s bleeding body out of some fucking job gone wrong? -- but it was sobering enough for Eames to get his shit together for a while.
Right now, though, he’s close to losing his shit again. It’s been six months since they’ve taken a job apart. Eames looks at Arthur’s eyelashes, the way his mouth quirks into a half frown that means he’s unsure, self-conscious. He thumbs at Arthur’s bottom lip and sighs, slumping his shoulders into the hotel’s shitty wallpaper.
“Would it be better or worse if we were married?” Arthur finally asks, the words almost obscured by how he laughs them out.
“For fuck’s sake,” Eames says, and they kiss.
This is a moment that will haunt Eames later.
Cobb still wears his wedding ring in dreams.
Arthur is watching an eagle circle the sky. The mark is a birder, and Arthur is considering the park near his vacation home as a setting for the dream level. This is his first attempt at it, and he’ll take Ariadne through it in the next week.
“Arthur,” Eames says softly, and Arthur’s gaze snaps to him.
“What would you like to do after all this?”
Arthur dreams up a pair of binoculars -- Eames’ subconscious is used to him bending physics so the dream doesn’t even ripple around them.
“I was thinking dinner -- maybe Italian?” The eagle’s gone now, and Arthur isn’t sure if he or Eames had been controlling its flight pattern.
Eames’ mouth quirks. He’s sitting on a park bench, legs spread wide. He’s not bothering with his forge and it doesn’t bother Arthur like it normally would, possibly because Eames already has the tricky parts of the mark’s wife down. He likes watching Eames work, the way he bleeds into someone else but can snap back in a second.
“I meant in a more long term, existential way. What are you going to do after dream share? But Italian sounds good.”
“Oh.” There’s a rustle and starlings burst from a tree near them, their call shrill. Arthur doesn’t jump but it’s a close thing, and they all fly west. “I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about retirement. Getting tired?”
Eames smiles and shakes his head. “I was just wondering.”
“I guess,” Arthur says, then he pauses. His daydreams about the future never have clear locations, just Eames, these days. “I don’t think about it much.”
“I just need to know if I should start saving up for some retirement property for us.”
Arthur laughs as his heart stutters. “Probably not for a while.”
He sits down on the bench and looks up at the sky, where the eagle has returned.
“Birding is pretty fucking boring,” Arthur says and Eames laughs, and Arthur can feel it rumble through him where they’re pressed together.
Present: Mombasa, Kenya
“I hear you have something of mine,” Eames says as he shoots the lock out of Yusuf’s door. He’s not aiming for subtly -- this one is guns blazing, fueled by caffeine and maybe some coke and adrenaline and fury. He’s been on the trail for two days straight, and it’s led here.
“Arthur’s not dead,” Yusuf shouts before jumping behind his heavy wooden shopfront. Eames looms over it, gun cocked and ready.
“That’s obviously why you’re still alive.”
Yusuf rolls his eyes, but he keeps his hands up, stays crouched. “He’s perfectly safe.”
“I see that we have two different definitions of the word ‘safe,’ then,” Eames says. “I want to see where you’re keeping him.”
Yusuf isn’t stupid enough to be unarmed, but he’s also not stupid enough to reach for his gun. Eames appreciates that -- it’s those details that kept their professional relationship running smoothly, despite their mutual instincts to fuck each other over.
Arthur is entombed in what looks like a hospital bed. He’s got tubes running up his arm, down his throat, under the blankets. Intubated and catheterized and being kept alive by some whirring machines next to him. He’s been given his own corner in the dreaming den, away from Yusuf’s actual clients, and he’s hooked to his own PASIV. Arthur’s dream is unshared.
“How long has he been under?” Eames has to bite down on the urge to kneel by the bed, to take Arthur’s pale face in both his hands, to brush his hair back.
“It’s only been a couple days,” Yusuf says, and Eames stares at him. Arthur’s been alone there for days. “The Somnacin he’s on, it isn’t strong. Time dilation isn’t nearly as severe as you’re thinking.”
“I’m going to have to go under and get him, aren’t I?”
Yusuf shrugs. “Most people don’t want to wake up after that.”
“After what?” Eames’ voice is sharp, his head turning quick to stare at Yusuf.
“He was delivered here,” Yusuf says, slowly moving back. “I didn’t put the hit on him, if that’s what you think. I’m no idiot. The note said it was a favor to me, but no one owed me anything like this. He’s been put through the ringer, Eames.”
The bruises are more apparent now. Eames switches on a nearby lamp and it’s harsh against Arthur’s sallow complexion. He lifts the blanket and wishes he hadn’t -- Arthur’s torso is bruised around the bandages that signal broken ribs.
“Why’d he get brought to you?” Eames asks, “Obviously someone thought you’d want to kill him yourself.”
“Several of my bank accounts have been compromised recently,” Yusuf says, staring down at Arthur. “He was my first guess, clearly, but he denied it.” Yusuf shrugs. “Either way, he stitched himself up fine but that wasn’t enough.”
“Fuck.” Eames can picture Arthur’s clever fingers, mending his own skin.
“The brain swelling probably would have warranted a medically-induced coma. This is what I came up with.” Yusuf shrugs. He’s not apologetic.
When Eames doesn’t respond, he continues. “I figured this would be kinder than letting him languish alone here, and safer for me.”
Eames doesn’t know what to say.
“I tried taking him off the Somnacin -- letting it run out so he’d wake naturally. But he didn’t. He had a small seizure, but I didn’t want to risk it.” He shrugs again. “I figured someone would be by to pick him up, though maybe not as dramatically as you did."
Eames gets it -- Yusuf doesn’t want to be involved. Might only be involved to save his own skin, but Eames can respect that. Eames knows how to hold a grudge.
Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria: A Dream
The Somnacin makes them languid, and the dreams move slowly, colors sliding into each other like colored lights whenever you touched something. They smear and sometimes they kaleidoscope out, bright patterns overlaying the landscape in geometric waves.
It’s beautiful, really, a perfect test run where everything goes wrong and no one gives a shit. Eames is watching Arthur run his hands over the brick walls of a house, smearing the reds and browns and whites together. Arthur laughs and Eames settles into the bright green field, letting his arms stretch out behind him. Ripples roll into the grass, fractalling out whenever a rock interrupts their path.
“This stuff,” Arthur says, grinning, “we should keep some.”
“It’s awful for the job,” Eames says, dissolving a long blade of grass in his hand, green smearing into his life line, his heart line that’s neatly bisected by a scar.
“Oh, it’s absolute shit for a job, yeah,” Arthur concedes, and then settles into the grass, wiping the brick from his fingers. “But I meant for us. It’s fun,” he says, and smiles. His teeth are white and straight and Eames touches a thumb to the dimple in his cheek, leaving behind a trail of green.
When they wake up, Arthur yawns and Eames feels ready to drop off immediately.
“How was it?” Ayo is an ebony-skinned chemistry post-doc from Nigeria. She’s new to the criminal side of the business and eager to please her highest profile clients to date. They make her antsy. Eames likes her and surprisingly, Arthur likes her as well.
“It’s like getting stoned,” Eames says, and he grins at her. She narrows her eyes and Eames realizes he might just like riling her up.
“So it’s terrible, is what you’re saying.” She frowns and takes a deep breath.
“It’s fun.” She desn’t look as amused as Eames feels, but he knows he’s got that touch of hysteria brought on by too much or too little sleep.
Arthur laughs. “You’ll get a lot more private clients than extractors with that one. Don’t throw it out yet.” He yawns and his jaw cracks audibly, and Ayo winces.
“Private clients, huh? Man, you think I got a lot of time for marketing myself, huh?”
Arthur smiles, easy going. “You’ll have excellent references once this job is done.”
In the hotel room, Arthur looks longingly at the bed but Eames pushes him into the shower, where they both fumble to strip down. It’s a nice hotel, kitchenette suite and all, because they can afford anonymity in style now. The shower is big, with two showerheads and glass walls, and Eames has been thinking about fucking Arthur in it for a few days now.
Arthur yawns again, though, into Eames’ shoulder, and so Eames ends up lazily jacking him off as Arthur leans against his chest. His dick digs into Arthur’s ass as Arthur squirms, soapy and sleepy and flush with pleasure. Time feels elastic to Eames, water beating time on the tiles and Arthur’s small noises filling up his ears, his brain.
After the shower, Arthur flops onto the bed, long limbs and olive skin still damp, and he looks intent on burrowing into the duvet and falling asleep immediately.
Eames flips him over on his back and Arthur smiles up at him. “Oh right,” he says as Eames straddles his chest, erection bobbing.
Arthur reaches up and Eames gently pushes his hands away.
“I’m happy to do most of the work,” Eames says and Arthur smiles, licks his lips, and opens his mouth obediently.
Arthur tongues at the head, his foreskin, and Eames slides his dick further into Arthur’s wet mouth. His eyes, puffy with tiredness, slip closed and Eames revels in the way Arthur tips his head back, how his moan reverberates around his cock. Arthur gags, sometimes, but Eames neither presses hard or let up. Arthur rubs his hands up Eames’ thighs, fingers catching on the hair there, and he sucks slow and deep.
Eames wants to pull out, come all over Arthur’s face, but Arthur shakes his head, pulls Eames closer and deep throats him instead, fingers digging into Eames’ legs.
“Just took a shower,” Arthur says, wiping at his mouth. His voice is deep and scratchy and Eames doesn’t move off his chest for a moment, instead running his fingers up Arthur’s breastbone to skate across the vein in Arthur’s neck.
Arthur’s eyes slip shut and he tilts his head, letting Eames touch him. Arthur runs his own fingers lazily up and down Eames' thigh.
This must be how hypnosis works, Eames thinks, and he drags his fingers through Arthur’s hair. Arthur murmurs, pliant and teetering on the edge of sleep. The groan he makes when Eames scratches at the back of his neck makes Eames’ dick twitch.
“Arthur,” Eames says, quietly. This is a moment he’s been waiting for, because Arthur can be affectionate, but he’s rarely open. Never vulnerable.
“What have you been dreaming about lately, lovely?”
He tucks some of Arthur’s hair behind his ear and Arthur hums again. Arthur may sleep without moving that night -- he looks exhausted, but it’s a good exhausted. It’s not how he normally looks when he’s ready for sleep -- there’s no tightness around his slitted eyes, no dark bruises on his face. He looks sated, ready to roll into a satisfying sleep.
“Dream? Eames, we don’t dream anymore, c’mon.”
Arthur does, though. Eames has watched his eyes twitch under his eyelids, purple with veins. Eames has been kicked awake, or startled awake when Arthur speaks, shouts, or screams while asleep.
“Humor me,” Eames says and Arthur’s eyes flutter shut.
“My dreams were pretty normal,” he says, “except everything was different there. I’m in the right place but everything is wrong.”
“Give me an example,” he whispers, and then bites gently at Arthur’s ear. Arthur groans again, pornographic with his still swollen lips.
“Paris. Sometimes I dreamt about Paris -- it always looked the same to me, but it isn’t what Paris looked like when I’m awake.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s familiar but it’s not right, you know?”
Eames shakes his head, but Arthur is slipping out of the zone of not awake nor asleep, and Eames can physically feel the moment the will leaves Arthur, his body going slack with sleep
Eames is frustrated at the time, and only gets more frustrated later, when he revisits this memory again and again and takes it apart from all angles and still doesn’t find what he needs.
The Present: Mombasa, Kenya
Eames doesn’t have nightmares anymore but it’s just as well -- he could never dream up something as horrible as this moment is.
“He’s in a coma?” Ariadne says, and her voice wavers. Eames can picture her exactly: a tear-streaked face, the stern set of her jaw, full of resolve to go and plan a fucking rescue mission.
“That’s not something you can rescue him from, love,” Eames says. He says it aloud because he needs those words to be a lie.
“I still think we should call Saito,” she says, and he tries not to shout his reply.
“Absolutely not. I only called you because you’re the only one in the business who doesn’t have any kind of bad blood. but that doesn’t mean you’re totally safe.”
He can hear Ariadne swallow over the phone.
“Your best bet,” he says, “is to forget what you’ve learned, that you were ever contacted by me, and that you ever met Arthur.”
“Eames, I can’t just forget you. I can’t forget him -- Jesus, Eames, he was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I’d be going slowly crazy designing hospital waiting rooms if it wasn’t for Arthur.”
He doesn’t quite have the heart to explain to Ariadne just how fucking painful her earnest honesty is. It hurts like a toothache and makes his tongue sharp.
“Love, you’re going to hurt yourself. You’re going to make this harder for me.”
“Don’t you condescend to me like I don’t know this business, like I don’t know it’s dangerous. But you and Arthur aren’t run of the mill dream criminals, okay? I can trust you.”
Eames pinches the bridge of his nose and sighs, biting back the “no, you really can’t,” that’s his instinctive response.
There’s a long pause, and Eames says “Fly out here, then. I need someone to watch him -- Yusuf says I have about three days to before I have to start worrying he won’t wake up, and I’d appreciate the extra pair of eyes.”
“Where are you planning on being?”
“Oh, I’m paying a visit to a mutual friend of ours.”
Arthur gets late night calls sometimes. Or early morning. Mostly they can be categorized as ‘inconveniently timed.’
Mostly they’re from Cobb.
“I got another ‘sorry for thinking you were a murderer’ card,” Cobb says, and Arthur feels tired.
“Yeah?” he asks and looks over at Eames, who is still asleep and not moving. It’s suspicious.
He’s leaning against the window in their hotel room. It’s cozy, and the view is lovely but at 2:15 am it’s too bright, jarringly busy when contrasted with the soft snores of Eames’ breathing.
It’s their sixth week together after inception.
Cobb mentions a fruit basket, as his innocence has been receiving enough media attention that old colleagues and classmates and rivals are all paying their respects.
“Cobb,” Arthur says and the man stops talking. “Cobb, what’re you trying to achieve by letting me know who in the industry still gives a fuck about you? You’re retired.”
“I’m on hiatus. You make me sound like a grandfather, Arthur,” Cobb sounds irritated.
Cobb is irritating the shit out of Arthur right now. “What do you get out of calling me up at two am to complain about your life?”
“Shit, it’s two over there? You know I’m no good with time zones.”
Arthur knows this -- he knows enough about the man Dom Cobb to fill up several reams of paper. Hundreds of spiral bound notebooks of habits and tics and likes and dislikes and fears.
“It’s early and I’m tired and I don’t want to wake Eames.” It’s the most honest Arthur has been with Cobb in a long while.
“I just wanted to let you know that it’d be okay to start working with Naveen again, if you wanted. He’s a pretty good extractor and has been looking for somebody to work with--”
“So he sends you an Edible Arrangement and you tell him you’ll talk to me, then.” Arthur’s keeping his voice steady but the hand not holding a phone is a curled fist, blunt nails digging into the meat of his palm. He squeezes his eyes shut, blocking out the city and sending Cobb to a dark and isolated place.
“Arthur, you know that’s not what--”
“Yeah, okay. Tell the kids I said hi, okay, and tell Phillipa I haven’t forgotten her birthday.”
“Bye.” Arthur opens his eyes and looks over at the bed.
Eames’ eyes are already open, and he yawns. “Wasn’t asleep, love, you could have kept talking.”
Arthur shoots him a skeptical face. “You’re such a sneak. The conversation was over, anyway.”
Eames stretches, and Arthur watches his muscles flex, the way they move under the skin.
Present: Los Angeles, California, United States
Dominick Cobb doesn’t appreciate visitors, and isn’t out of practice.
Eames discovers these facts as he’s slammed against the wall of Cobb’s entrance hall, Cobb’s forearm pressed against his windpipe and his own gun pressed against his temple.
“I’m here about Arthur,” Eames says, hands open, and Cobb squints at him, dubious. He looks older than Eames remembers.
“I figured you were the one that killed him, and now you’re gunning for me,” Cobb says. He’s not as angry as Eames expected and that’s unsettling. Eames has three different ways to break the hold but doesn’t, stays still and breathes until Cobb backs off, gun still trained.
“So who did kill him?” Cobb looks mad now, like Eames is there to blow a hole into his neat and tidy theory.
Eames wants to kill him.
“He’s not sodding dead, Cobb. Someone’s taken him but they haven’t killed him.”
“And how would you know?”
“I’d know,” Eames says, and now he flexes his arms, crowds into Cobb’s space. “And so would you.”
Cobb doesn’t take his finger off the trigger. “I deal in information but I’m no rat.”
“Who’d you tell about Arthur’s latest job? Who came calling about Arthur?”
“I don’t know who you think I am,” Cobb says, “but I don’t just go around betraying people I care about. No one called about Arthur. I haven’t even talked to him since he told me to fuck off.”
“If you gave a shit about your kids you wouldn’t be talking to Arthur at all. You’d be in France, or Japan, somewhere else. Someplace safe.” He hisses the last two words and Cobb actually snarls a little, top lip curling in contempt.
“What the fuck do you know about it, Eames?”
“Arthur was supposed to land in Jo’berg and he didn’t.”
Cobb’s expression flickers and he breaks eye contact. “Look, I got paid a lot to say something harmless -- I didn’t think--”
“That much is obvious,” Eames snarls. “Who’d you tell?”
“It’s not. It wasn’t personal,” Cobb says. His voice is soft even with the gun still trained on Eames’ chest, eyes pleading. “Will you tell him that? It wasn’t personal, I was gonna warn him.”
Cobb lowers his hands. “This chemist wanted to know what jobs were going down nearby -- she was in Angola, but she didn’t have the right accent. Said her name was Joy. Paid in traveller’s checks.”
Eames stares, and says, “You’re a right fucking mess, Dom Cobb.”
Singapore: A Memory
Eames strikes Arthur across the face and gets socked in the stomach.
He should have anticipated it, but Arthur’s unpredictable when he wakes -- Eames was hoping he’d be heavy lidded and disoriented instead of sharp and angry.
“Jesus fuck, I’m sorry,” Arthur says, reaching out, and Eames wheezes.
“It’s fine. I had to wake you up somehow.”
Arthur frowns and rubs at Eames’ cheek. “Something wrong? Have we been made?”
Eames watches as Arthur starts to fumble for his gun on the nightstand, rubbing sleep out of his eye with his other hand.
“No, you were having a nightmare.”
Arthur stills and peers at Eames. He’s fully awake now, and skeptical.
“Eames,” he says, drawing out the word. “You know that’s impossible?”
“And yet, here I am, risking getting shot to wake you up.” Eames smiles and Arthur returns it weakly, still staring at him.
“I don’t think I’d actually shoot before throwing a punch.”
“What were you dreaming about?”
Eames props his head up on his arm and looks at Arthur. Arthur is a good liar -- they all have to be in a business so saturated with the need for honesty -- but Eames is better. Eames knows his tells and can read the microexpressions that flit over his face. They suggest misdirection, confusion, and maybe a little anger.
“I don’t know, Eames,” Arthur says, and he sighs and rubs a hand over his face. “What are you trying to divine out of my dreams anyway?”
Eames takes this as a sign of progress.
Present: Los Angeles, California, United States
There’s one more thing Eames needs before he leaves. Cobb is an information broker after all, and his brain is a wealth of unsettling facts of dreamshare. Cobb is the only one who knows the ways dreamshare scrambles the mind.
“Did you ever go under with Mal, when she was crazy?”
Cobb won’t stop glaring and Eames is in no mood to be polite.
“I need to know what the fuck I’ll find down there, Cobb. Arthur’s won’t wake up, even when the timer runs out.”
“Are you asking me if I ever slipped into Mal’s natural dreams?” Cobb looks incredulous, and Eames bristles.
“It’s not unheard of. Certainly it’s been tested in the less scrupulous parts of medical science.”
“Eames, that’s a serious ethical breach, who would even think of doing that?” And that’s rich too.
“You weren’t curious, then? To see what was in her head while she slept next to you? Holding a knife one moment and telling you she loved you the next?”
Cobb is scowling. “Get out of my house, Eames.”
“You never checked once? Do you regret it now?”
Cobb tenses, like he’s going to attack, but he doesn’t. Eames leaves.
Eames isn’t the only one who can forge -- Arthur grew up forging notes from his parents, and is sitting with a stack of hand written papers and is studying the language but also the handwriting.
He’s got his own notebook open and is idling copying letters as he sees them. The writing is even, but tightly spaces. Their mark is reserved, narrow vowels, and he’s logical and rather focused. He isn’t an artist.
Arthur chews on his pen and starts when Eames leans over him.
“That’s not half bad,” he says, and then he kisses Arthur on the temple.
Arthur looks up at him. “You need to make more noise when you’re walking around so I don’t shoot you.”
“It’s probably harder to correctly copy handwriting that’s so similar to your own accurately. That’s why I try to only deal with official documents.”
“This doesn’t look like my handwriting,” Arthur says. His own penmanship is a drafter’s -- all capital letters with a slight tilt to the left, but he’s copying something that’s loopy and round.
Eames squints down at it, then shrugs. “Alright.”
Annapolis, Maryland: Another Dream
The first time is because Arthur kicks Eames awake. Eames jumps, flailing, and stares down where Arthur is curled into his side. Arthur’s breaths come in sharp pants, and he whimpers softly as he kicks out again.
It’s not a violent nightmare, and that’s new, and that feels less dangerous. He’s setting up the PASIV before he can give himself time to back out.
Eames finds himself in a carnival. Maybe an outdoor festival. Everyone’s in various types of costumes, the sun is shining, vendors are selling fried foods on sticks. It feels similar to a renaissance festival he’d been to with Arthur before, but it isn’t quite right -- the layout is different, the costumes more extreme. There are no uncostumed children here, no tourists. Everyone is a native to the pageantry, wearing ribbons and facepaint and armor and shields.
He’s in front of a fortune-teller’s tent that is definitely a memory fragment. He’d seen it in Maryland, and he knows Arthur is inside.
Eames steps in, bells chiming as he disturbs the flap of a door. The inside is larger than the out, and Arthur is seated across from a woman who looks like neither crone nor costumed employee. She’s wearing scrubs the shade of Jordan almonds with a gaudy metal adornment on her head, she looks like Arthur, and she smiles.
Arthur just stares for a moment, perfectly still, and then he smiles hesitantly. “Getting over your skepticism, then?”
Eames shrugs, and a chair is right where he needs it to be to sit at Arthur’s side.
“A couples’ reading then? Or should I finish the spread?”
“Don’t mind me,” Eames says, peering at the table. He knows this scam, but the cards look old, frayed yellow around the edges. The deck is in French, the Tarot de Marseilles, and the card she turns over is Le Monde, The World.
Here he feels the pull of Arthur the most, because he knows that card, has seen the art before. But he also knows it’s Mal, knows that’s what Arthur sees in it.
Arthur himself is thrown into contrast by the candle light inside the tent -- his face shifting with each flicker.
“The past, you’re haunted by it,” she says gently.
The woman on the card is sad-eyed and dark-haired and not at all what the card should look like.
“She’s gone now,” Eames says flatly. Arthur glances at him.
“Oh, we’ve done this spread before. It is a comfort, you might be surprised to learn,” she says. “You’ve never been here so early before, though.”
As if on cue, the tent flap opens, and Eames sees himself walk in.
Eames stares at himself. Arthur’s version of him is as imprecise as Arthur’s own idea of self -- his nose is missing the break, his teeth not quite right.
“I’ll need to borrow him for a minute,” the projection says, and pulls Eames outside.
“Look, mate, don’t worry about the nose. Arthur loves it crooked, he just can’t ever seem to get it right.”
This is what Arthur’s subconscious thinks Eames would be concerned with -- that maybe Eames would get insecure about that idea that Arthur might not like his nose.
Arthur’s subconscious is right, which makes it worse.
“He’s not a huge fan of the gel, though,” Eames 2 says and grins.
“Do you come here often?” Eames says and then winces. “I mean. Does Arthur?”
“Do you appear in Arthur’s dreams a lot?” The projection’s accent is wrong, too, but the timbre of his voice is perfect. “Not every dream. I’m always in this one though. That’s his mother, you know.”
Eames knew but didn’t know. “I don’t want to go back in there,” he says. “Arthur might wake up, might notice.”
“Do you have a light?” his doppleganger asks, and Eames sees that he’s got a pack of Lambert & Butler menthols in his shirt pocket.
“Arthur never dreams up a lighter,” Eames 2 says and takes it gratefully when Eames offers. Eames lights up one as well, even though he’s quit for the past few months.
They smoke in silence for a while, and then the tent flap opens and Arthur’s mother steps out.
“I was a nurse, you know, not a fortune teller.” She holds out her hand and Eames hands her a cigarette too.
“I didn’t think he’d been raised by a pack of wandering gypsies. Probably be a lot more colorful if he was.”
She frowns and she looks so unbearably like Arthur that any doubt Eames had in his mind is gone. When she inhales, her frown deepens.
“The cards are a parlor trick my own mother taught me. You should let Arthur do a reading for you sometime -- he’s quite good. Also, you smoke menthols?”
Eames snorts. “Doubtful. He was shite with a real deck of cards the last time I saw him. And yes, or I did.”
She shakes her head and exhales a stream of smoke. “You and I both know the game isn’t fortune-telling, it’s people reading. If he got it wrong it’s because you’re lying to him.”
Eames isn’t sure that’s fair -- he’s never outright lied to Arthur. But he certainly isn’t always truthful. “How does this work then? Now that you know my secrets, will Arthur know them too?”
She laughs and he likes it. Her voice is deeper he expected, just like Arthur’s.
“You’re the dream expert, not me. I’m not even real. When he down here it’s to have his cards read and then to talk to me about things he knows I could never understand. It’s a little cruel.”
She looks wistful though, not angry.
“Will I ever meet you topside?”
She shakes her head again, hairpiece jingling. “No.”
Eames wakes first, because the sedation wears off. He dosed himself low, but he’s not sure if that’ll be enough for Arthur to forget his dream visit. He doesn’t think Arthur will begrudge him this once, but he watches Arthur sleep and realizes he doesn’t know him at all.
They’d managed to skip over all the dull banalities of courtship -- favorite colors, favorite foods, favorite place to ski, Eames didn’t want all that information to be suddenly crammed into his brain where it could be picked over and stolen. Less honorably, he hoped that keeping Arthur’s past a blank slate would make it easier to cut and run if the need arose.
Now he thinks maybe he should have been more curious in his exploration of Arthur. He knows what guns Arthur prefers, his inseam, how he drinks coffee and all the soft places on his body that make him moan when Eames bites.
Eames assumes it’ll be enough.
Present: Mombasa, Kenya
Ariadne arrives a day after Eames returns from California. He’s happy for the distraction because he and Yusuf are bickering in circles about whether or not Eames’ plan will work.
“I’ve done it before,” Eames says and Yusuf frowns. They’re on their first cup of coffee and Ariadne’s watching them talk like one would watch a table tennis match.
“The PASIV shouldn’t work like that, Eames.”
“Well, what do I know. I’m not a chemist or a biomech engineer. I just know that Arthur’s dreams are very strange.
“I used to find him quite dull, in fact,” Eames says.
“Haven’t you seen all the work he did on mobius dream levels? I mean, not only is it fascinating, it’s groundbreaking,“ Ariadne says, blowing on her mug.
“Wasn’t that Cobb’s paper?” he asks.
“It was Mal’s paper, and Arthur’s the secondary author. But the publishing dates...I don’t know.”
Yusuf nods, looking thoughtful.
“I don’t know if it’ll work how you want it to, if it works. I’m not sure I should be trusting people just based on their descriptions of experimental dreams.” He smiles wryly.
“I think I should go under first, and then if it seems unproductive we see if you can develop some compounds to help wean him off the Somnacin.”
Yusuf shrugs. He isn’t personally invested, Eames needs to constantly remind himself. For Yusuf, this is a big science experiment with unusually high stakes.
“I don’t know much about the effects of stepping into a natural dream,” Ariadne says. “Is it possible for the dream to stay stable? What happens if you start messing with the physics?”
“Arthur’s not called the best for no reason. You think we made it out of Robert Fischer’s mind in one piece because Arthur can’t hold a level together?”
She just rolls her eyes. “I mean, will he want to keep it stable if he realizes you’re, you know, real?”
“And won’t his militarization be a problem?” Yusuf adds.
“Look, I’ve done this before. A couple times. Nothing’s ever attacked me and I’ve never been kicked out of the dream. His subconscious knows me,” Eames says, and he notices Ariadne’s slight smile.
“I think I could come up with something that’ll get you in smoothly,” says Yusuf, and then it’s agreed.
Memory: Riga, Latvia
It’s not that they don’t fight -- they do. Ariadne calls them married but their fights aren’t like the ones Eames watched his parents have growing up, over bills and everyday tedium and stress.
“Well he has you to go to for that, doesn’t he?” Eames says. “It’s not like Cobb has ever shot anyone while awake. He’s never actually killed anyone.”
Arthur doesn’t exactly scowl, but his face looks pinched and weary, and he squeezes his eyes shut for a second.
“Right. Cobb’s no murderer; I am.”
Eames can only tell Arthur the truth if it’ll hurt him -- Eames wields truth like a weapon and it’s like Arthur’s kryptonite. Eames thinks a lot of things about love but partnership is hard to consider -- he needs to either conquer or exit.
Arthur sometimes makes a fist out of air when he’s upset, and Eames isn’t disappointed.
His right hand is balling into a fist over and over and Eames watches him look out the window of their train car. It should be lovely but Arthur just looks...something, it’s not an expression Eames can recognize on Arthur’s face.
Eames doesn’t tell him that his vicious nature is what drew Eames to him, the way he had a steady gun hand in the real world, but like Mal, Arthur has never learned to accept that side of himself -- the side that is selfish and relentless, that keeps the adrenaline pumping until your opponent can’t move any more.
“When was your first kill?” Arthur asks, staring at the treeline whipping past them.
Eames thinks back on his first bomb drop.
“I was in my twenties,” he says slowly, and Arthur still isn’t looking at him.
Arthur nods. “Not too young,” he says and Eames is torn between asking and running.
“How come it’s never a nice story about how you took James and Phillipa to the park or something?” Arthur’s voice is low and flat. “Is Marie still there? Is she taking care of Mal’s kids while you try to scrape out some kind of fringe life in dreamshare?”
“I’m calling you because Hudson tipped me off to a nice little job that you’d be --”
“Okay, stop. If someone is calling you about a job that needs a point man, it means I already know about the job, and I’m not taking the job. Don’t you get that?
“You’ve got enough money that Phillipa and James should get through college easy, and if I find out you’re trying for more, gambling as some kind of go-between for teams, Cobb, I’m going to kill you myself.”
There’s a longer pause here, and Eames waits patiently to hear the end of it.
“You’re done, Cobb. You’re washed up and you should be fucking grateful for it.”
Arthur hangs up with a vicious press of his thumb to his cell and buries his head in his hands for a minute.
Eames pretends to be asleep while Arthur breathes heavily through his nose.
“You’re pretty shit at that, you know,” Arthur says eventually, looking down at him, and Eames shifts and slits open an eye.
“You’re too good for him, love,” Eames says, rolling over and resting a broad hand on Arthur’s thigh.
“I know. That’s why I never gave a shit that you were listening in -- I figured if it bothered you you’d tell me to get the fuck out of bed.”
This is true, and Eames realizes Arthur’s not even trying to get anything from him. He’s just being honest. Eames squeezes his thigh.
“Yes. Come to sleep.”
A Dream, Arthur’s Brain: Mombasa, Kenya
It’s dark when Eames opens his eyes. It’s not pitch black -- the sky above him seems lit by a moon he can’t see yet. The stars are more prominent than he’s used to seeing in cities, and he spots the bright shine of Venus.
The constellations though. They don’t make sense at all -- Draco is all tangled up, Cassiopea is getting off her throne to walk away.
Eames listens. Eventually sound starts to creep back into his consciousness. First wind, then the chirps of cicadas. The air is pleasant but not without a tiny core of winter still trailing through the spring breeze. The dream feels solid enough despite Yusuf’s warnings going under, that the Somnacin would have to be subtle enough to not interrupt with what Arthur’s been pumped with.
Eames slides into a forge. He goes with Cobb, only because he thinks it’s a person Arthur would demand loyalty from or hand over loyalty to, but not someone he’d notice too much difference in.
Wearing Cobb is strange -- he hasn’t played Dom since Mal died, back when the two of them were playing criminal and trying to chart all the unnavigable waters of dreamshare together. Eames doesn’t want to surprise Arthur as himself, though.
There’s evidence of Arthur here beyond the sky; leaves are disturbed on the ground and as his eyes adjust to the dark it becomes more and more clear that he’s meant to follow. Well, someone is meant to follow.
Eames walks and the sky shifts and moves, and the air gets suddenly colder. He’s not uncomfortable even though he knows he should be, but it’s a clue that Arthur is nearby.
He finds Arthur chopping wood. There’s snow on the ground, and the trail he’s been following widens and leads to a log cabin. It’s neither quaint nor rustic -- it’s utilitarian.
He drops his forge. He doesn’t want to try to trick Arthur anymore, he just wants to talk to him.
Arthur looks up and his nose is red, and he’s barely dressed for the weather. Neither is Eames, but the climate shift had been quite sudden, moving from a cool night to winter in the matter of a stone path.
“Hey,” Arthur says, rubbing at his face with the back of his hand.
Eames stares at him.
“Um,” Arthur says, and he swings the axe into a stump with a startling amount of noise. “You probably want me to invite you or something.”
Eames has wrapped his arms around himself. “Yeah, that’d be good. Shouldn’t you be wearing gloves or something? A hat? You catch cold easily.”
Arthur smiles and opens the door. The cabin is cozier inside than it seemed outside, but it still isn’t particularly personalized. There’s a loft with enough room for a bed on it, a shabby loveseat and a small CRT TV. The wallpaper in the kitchen area is yellowing, but there’s inexcplicably new fixtures, shining dully.
“Welcome home, I guess,” Arthur says, latching up the door behind him. There’s a strong howl of wind that rips persistently around the cabin, which explains its lack of windows -- there’s only one in the kitchen.
“Have I been here before?” Eames asks, shaking the snow off his shoes before taking them off. “Do you get many of me running around in the snow?”
Arthur stops, halfway through taking off his coat. “What?”
“I just want to know if you often have chats with projections of me.”
Arthur gets his coat all the way off. “How do I know you’re not just a projection? But yes, you show up every so often, normally around a season change.”
“You’ve already decided I’m not a projection,” Eames says, and he heads to the tiled corner of the room that’s the kitchen, determined to find a hot drink.
Arthur tilts his head. “Well, you’ve never asked about yourself before.. Normally there’s an elaborate backstory involved, not you rummaging for tea. You’re normally more romantic, as well.”
Eames pretends not to notice that that last sentence is colored with real annoyance. “Put the kettle on, would you love?”
Arthur looks at him for a long time, but he does.
They don’t talk much that evening, and Eames watches Arthur yawn. He feels less on edge already, almost normal when they get ready for bed.
Arthur doesn’t move in his sleep here.
Eames finds it horrifically unsettling -- Arthur lays on his back, sometimes with his face tilted toward Eames, and breathes in shallow pants and doesn’t move.
He wakes up early, too, so the bed is empty by the time Eames claws himself out of the blackness that is sleeping while asleep. Eames tries to set alarms but they never go off, so he tries to solve Arthur’s stillness and ignore the irony of that mission simultaneously.
Eames misses the closeness of a slow morning where neither of them is jolted awake by an imagined threat and having the luxury of waking up with limbs ensnared. He misses it enough to experiment, and he finds that gently stroking down Arthur’s ribs causes him to curl over Eames like a touch-me-not leaf, heavy and folded. Sometimes, Arthur will murmur into his neck before stilling again.
On day three of the dream, Arthur starts to open up.
“To be honest,” Arthur says over a mug of Swiss Miss, “I thought I was dead.”
“And this was the afterlife?”
Arthur shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes it feels like hell. Sometimes more like Purgatory. Like I was waiting.”
Eames grins at him. “Well, I’m here now.”
Arthur’s eyes flutter shut and he traces the rim of his mug with two fingers. It’s chipped, it has the name of a school but Eames can’t make out the words. “Cobb has this theory, you know? Well, Mal does too, I guess, they’re such a pair, but that if you were asleep long enough, or the right kind of sleep, you’d eventually hit the shared Jungian consciousness.”
Eames holds his breath.
“The place where all our fears and hopes and anxieties meet one another to manifest shapes and symbols to thread us all together.”
“Arthur,” Eames says softly, and he leans over to touch the back of Arthur’s hands. “You know that’s limbo right? Mal and Cobb went there, and only Cobb really came back.”
Arthur’s eyes open and he stares at Eames for a long moment, and Eames can’t tell what he’s seeing.
Finally Arthur takes a deep breath. “Y-Yeah. I mean. Yeah. Eames, time isn’t linear all the time here, just. Things feel so jumbled up sometimes.”
It’s the first he’s seen of Arthur being unhappy. Arthur moves through the days with a sort of rugged determination, which Eames first found irritating but is now starting to understand.
“I just want to wake up but what if I’m wrong,” he whispers. “What if you’re not real.”
Memory: A Different Dream: New York, New York, United States
In this dream Arthur is wearing a patch over his eye and his head is shaved. Eames thinks he’s younger but truth be told it’s difficult to tell -- the tell-tale age lines on his face only come out when he laughs or frowns, and his default expression has always been a smooth mask of indifference.
Topside Arthur had been tense, frowning in his sleep. Eames has learned all the stages of Arthur’s on-coming nightmares, and caught this one early.
Arthur’s looking at a tree.
The tree is bigger than anything Eames has ever seen, though he isn’t sure if that means it’s old or impossible.
“You again?” Arthur asks, still gazing at the tree.
“Who were you expecting?”
Arthur shrugs. “A surprise, maybe. But you’ll do.”
He moves closer and pulls Eames near, sliding his lips over Eames’ in a slow and seductive lick of a kiss.
Eames responds a beat too late, and he honestly can’t tell if Arthur knows he’s real or not.
Arthur can read his reluctance as easily here as he can topside.“I guess not tonight, huh? Not into younger guys?”
“You’re a stranger to me, like this,” Eames says, feeling candid and bold.
Arthur shrugs. “Is that a deal-breaker now?” He’s in military fatigues -- beige shirt, camo pants, the most practical boots Eames has ever seen him wear.
“I guess it is,” Eames says. “What are we looking at?” He walks up to the tree, the bark impossibly whorled and brittle. He rests a palm against it and ravens suddenly burst out from the leaves, startled.
Arthur watches them with interest, then licks a finger to test the direction of the breeze.
“Looks like we’re in for some Bugs,” Arthur says, and this is nonsense.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Eames is unsettled by his inability to play along when he’s in Arthur’s dream.
Arthur laughs, stepping into Eames’ personal space and grabbing Eames’ wrists. “What, they don’t got Bugs where you’re training?”
Eames pulls a wrist free and strokes Arthur’s hair, feeling the vibrations of the laugh through Arthur’s shorn skull. The hair is prickly and lovely.
“It’s a game, sort of. How did the Brits do it then?”
Eames doesn’t have time to answer, because the Bugs arrive -- they’re huge, and it takes Eames a moment to understand why they’ve been christened Bugs. They look like giant shadows but move swiftly. It’s the sound they make when scuttling -- it sounds like the scrape metal against clay tile, that brings to mind cockroaches, nightmares.
Arthur’s pulling a gun from the tangle of roots of the tree. “You’ll probably need one,” he says.
“This is what they trained you with?” Eames asks, moving to the tree but keeping his back to it.
“Second week,” Arthur says, and the gun is improbably large, something Arthur has to mount on his shoulder. “Someone was a big sci-fi fan.”
Eames shoots himself awake and doesn’t take care with putting away the PASIV. Arthur jerks and Eames shoves him awake.
Present: Arthur’s Brain, Mombasa, Kenya
They’re talking about Mal, because of course they are.
It’s Eames’ fault, because he deflected from a question about his family. Arthur’s been probing, curious. Eames thinks it’s because he’s trying to gauge whether or not Eames is really there, if he can come up with facts that match Arthur’s research.
“She was quite a motherhen to you,” Eames lies, and Arthur snorts.
“Mal saved up her motherly tendencies for her own kids, and she barely had that. No, she wasn’t nurturing, but she wasn’t a criminal either. Not like we are. She did this for fun.”
Eames stares out at the sky. It’s another beautiful palette of greys and whites and blacks -- he hasn’t seen the sun directly since he got there, but the stars he remembers so clearly from his first trip to Arthur’s head are obscured every night as well.
“I do this for fun,” Eames says. “I thought you had fun doing it too.”
Arthur shrugs and fumbles with a cigarette trapped in its box. “If it wasn’t dreamshare, you’d be another type of conman. Art thief, maybe.”
Eames laughs. “It’s less glamorous a life than you’d expect. Why do you think I’m here?” He doesn’t mean for the question to be loaded but it is anyway, so he keeps going.
“And what would you do, without those persuasive Cobbs and that unrelenting military research group?” He’s very close to riling Arthur now, he can feel it in Arthur’s stance but also in the way the wind picks up. It brings a metallic tang that he associates with steel.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I’d have continued with dreaming, really.”
“That’s why Mal liked you,” Eames says, and he steals one of Arthur’s cigarettes. “She hated dealing with criminals but you, you were different. Noble.”
Arthur bristles at that, shifting on the patchwork sofa. “Mal was good at shifting reality to fit her needs, even awake.”
“Anyway,” Arthur says, shuttering that area of conversation, “the season’s about to change.”
“What’s the next season?”
“The rains are coming,” Arthur says.
The season change comes when they’re asleep. Eames wakes up to Arthur’s heavy body on top of him, in what looks like a hotel room in a place like Tokyo. The walls are dusky red. It’s already cozier than Arthur’s cabin.
“Hey,” he says softly into Arthur’s ear, and Arthur jerks awake, eyes wide and dark.
“The season changed,” Eames says, trying to soothe, and he runs a hand down Arthur’s back. He’s still tired.
“Yeah,” Arthur says, and Eames can feel his heart hammering in his chest. He sits up slowly, and runs his fingers through Eames’ hair.
The days here run together worse than in Arthur’s cabin. They’re in a high building, but the elevator only stops at their floor and the lobby. Outside, the sky is either dark or stormy.
There’s people there, at least. Projections. They don’t have faces but are friendly enough when Eames goes to buy food to bring up and cook in their hotel’s kitchenette.
The monotony gets to him. Eames starts running, and in Arthur’s dreams he can run for hours. At night the city lights up, and every night the neon is different.
Eames learns to poach eggs and Arthur stares at him in the mornings. He doesn’t know what Arthur does during the day, but he’s not gaining or losing weight. His hair isn’t growing. There’s no change in him at all except sometimes now when Eames comes home Arthur tries to kiss him on the mouth.
He let Arthur do it once, and the heat of his mouth, the slick feel of his tongue is overwhelming. He’s hard instantly and Arthur groans, hands touching him everywhere until Eames pushing him away.
“We can’t,” he says and Arthur whines. “It’s not real here.”
“It’s not...what the fuck, Eames?” Arthur asks, leaning in close. Eames watches his hands spasm, closing on nothing.
“I don’t know what you see when you go outside,” and Eames doesn’t know that he goes outside at all, “but you have to know it’s not right.”
Arthur drags his hands through his hair and looks wild eyed in nothing but soft pajama bottoms.
Eames goes running.
Arthur looks out at the city.
The bay window is really the only redeeming quality their room has. The view is gorgeous when Arthur bothers to pull it together, which is normally only when Eames is outside.
That’s why the window is currently showing him an endless abyss of gray fog.
Eames is sleeping and his breathing fills the room like a physical thing, and it’s both comforting and unsettling to Arthur.
He stares, furrowing his brow, and lights pop up in the clouds, buildings growing from the top down like paint drips. Neon slides around like snakes, words in different languages growing.
Eames shifts and yawns and Arthur pushes off the window to look at him.
“What’re you doing?” he asks, sleepy. The window is cold against Arthur’s naked shoulder blades when he turns to face him.
“Building,” Arthur says. “I figured you’d go on another run today. Wanted it to be nice.”
Eames walks over to the window and looks out. “You do this?”
Arthur shrugs. “Every morning.”
“How come I never see you doing this?”
“Because,” Arthur spits, “you never want to be here with me.” He feels exhausted.
Eames stares at him, wary. “Why else would I be here?”
Arthur’s skinny and lean and framed by the constant dawn light filtering in. Eames stares at him, the tight fit of his boxer-briefs to the tattoos he’s never understood to the scar of a bullet wound in his left thigh.
“I’m here to find you, to be with you, to make you remember,” Eames says, but he sounds uncertain.
“Then why don’t you fuck me?” Arthur says it like it’s been punched out of him, and he’s breathing heavier than before, like their altitude is growing.
“What do you do all day when I’m out?” Eames asks instead of answering and Arthur wants to scream.
“Why don’t you try looking in my pillow?” Arthur says.
When it’s clear there won’t be more instructions coming, Eames he unzips the side and sticks his hand in.
Arthur stares at Eames’ open palm, full of molars with long roots and small down feathers.
“I don’t need to explain myself to you again and again and again. You’re going to keep breaking in and trying to steal it anyway,” Arthur says, and Eames is staring at his palm and then up at Arthur and then outside, where the clouds are making buildings but also thunderstorms.
Arthur shoots himself in the head.
Eames stares because Arthur’s body doesn’t bother to linger much longer than it takes for it to hit the floor. The ground starts rumbling immediately, maybe the aftershocks of Arthur’s death-fall, and the window clatters. The gun is still there, and still loaded, but Eames just tucks his knees against his chest. He decides he’ll take the minute of so he has left in the collapsing dream to brood.
Thunder booms outside.
Present: Mombasa, Kenya
When Eames wakes up it’s to an eye-achingly bright light and a clattering commotion to his left. Yusuf and Arthur are trapped in a half-dance, both torn between calm and panic. Arthur’s eyes are wide and his nostrils are flared, and Yusuf has his hands up to either shield himself or pin Arthur down on the bed. One of Arthur’s hands is wrapped tightly around the tube that leads down his throat, and he looks torn between punching Yusuf, jumping off the bed, and yanking the tube out of his mouth.
When Arthur notices Eames, the vulnerability there makes Eames want to run, to sit up and scramble away from the scene as quickly as he can. His palms itch and he squeezes the cot mattress at his sides as he sits up.
“Arthur, love, calm down. You’re safe here for now.” Eames swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands up next to Arthur, putting pressure on his shoulder.
“Let Yusuf take your intubation out. Do you want any kind of painkiller spray --” and Arthur shakes his head emphatically. Eames can feel the tension and anxiety coming off him -- it’s manifested in the tight cords of Arthur’s muscles.
It’s awful to watch and worse to hear, but Arthur doesn’t look angry.
“Honorable discharge?” Eames says, running his hands over the small box Arthur’s Purple Heart sits in. Arthur’s loft in New York doesn’t have much else to look at.
Arthur feels suspicious, but nods. “I came away about 70% disabled; hearing loss, vision loss, brain damage. Well, the vision loss was mostly the eye.”
“Wait, that eye is fake then? You owe me from our last shooting match then, you cheat.”
Arthur smiles, likes that Eames had almost figured it out on his own. “I could outshoot you with a blindfold on, Eames. The implant is good but I don’t miss.”
“What hubris,” Eames scolds, smiling and running his thumb over the zygomatic arch under Arthur’s left eye.
“I can see the future,” Arthur says, and his eyes slide shut. He smiles though, and Eames cradles his face, pulls him into a kiss.
“What do you see?” Eames breathes hot into Arthur’s neck.
“I meant, it processes images a tenth of a second faster than the natural eye, because the brain processes the input immediately.”
Eames laughs. “So romantic. You know how to keep the mystery alive.”
Arthur kisses him.
Present: Mombasa, Kenya
They hold a team meeting in Yusuf’s kitchen the next morning. Arthur hadn’t slept in Eames’ room, and from the look of him, hadn’t slept at all.
“I didn’t hack your accounts last month,” Arthur says after they’re all settled in with drinks and toast.
“But you did hack my bank account after we’d performed inception,” Yusuf says. “You can see how I would come to that conclusion.” The tea Eames is holding is hot and bitter.
Arthur shrugs, unapologetic. “You got the money back.”
“I think it was a little uncalled for.”
“It was a warning shot,” Arthur says, “I wanted to make sure you knew that I don’t appreciate having information withheld from me.” He pauses to take a sip from his mug. “I sent you good business after that.”
Yusuf’s head tilts, considering. “You did,” he concedes, “Always people with fair prices.”
“I did that because I knew you weren’t stupid -- you’d know what I meant and not push your luck.”
“Well, this was a sloppy job anyway,” Yusuf says. “Nothing like your elegant handiwork.” There’s a hint of a smirk when Yusuf says that, and Arthur raises his cup to acknowledge it.
“And that should have been your first clue.”
Arthur’s voice is deeper and rougher than usual and it worries Eames, because it means his throat is still scraped raw from being intubated.
“I wanted you to understand that I don’t like having information withheld from me.”
“Then you should be talking to Cobb -- did you freeze his accounts too?”
“My business with Cobb is none of your concern,” Arthur says, and his eyes are dark, angry.
“”That’s all well and good until his business gets you killed,” Yusuf says. “Maybe withholding information isn’t his biggest problem any more.”
“Anyway,” Ariadne cuts in, “what’re we going to do? Obviously Ramirez and her team are a threat -- Ayo, her chemist, and she’s working with an architect, Jet.”
“We could just kill them,” Eames says, and he’s surprised that he’s letting Ariadne make this into a group problem.
“That seems rather inelegant, “ Yusuf says.
“No, I agree,” Ariadne says, “it’s the most efficient solution."
“She wasn’t trying to kill me,” says Arthur slowly. “Leaving me with Yusuf was like a 50/50 deal -- either he’d kill me or he wouldn’t, but she wouldn't be the murderer either way."
“She could have killed you,” Eames insists.
“But she didn’t. Killing her team would be -- too easy.”
Eames looks at Arthur and worries. Arthur’s eyes are rimmed with dark circles, and he has the haunted look Eames remembers seeing in Mal, in Cobb, the brief glimpse of Saito waking up. The years that Arthur spent, awake and alone and then not alone, are invisible except in those bruises. He hopes they fade.
There’s a plan.
With Arthur, it’s elegant and ruthless, and it’s a long game. They have time, because Ramirez knows better than to go on the offense before they show their hand.
But Eames doesn’t mind the waiting as much as he thought he would -- it means they get to go home, to the flat Arthur purchased in London and filled with Eames.
Their first morning there is sunny -- it feels unusual and auspicious.
Eames lets Arthur shave, freshen up, and by the time they’re both done with ablutions it’s time for lunch.
“There’s nothing in the fridge,” Arthur says. He’s wearing a shirt to walk around the house and Eames knows that means he’s feeling vulnerable.
“I ordered curry,” Eames says, because it’s Arthur’s favorite.
When lunch arrives, Arthur sits on the couch and stares at Eames as he eats.
“When were you gonna tell me that you were taking leisure strolls through my brain?”
Eames chokes even though he was expecting it. “I figured...I figured you’d figure it out.”
The bruises under Arthur’s eyes haven’t faded, even though the rest of his wounds have mostly healed over. “Sometimes you need to say it Eames. Like how I need to say thank you.”
That he wasn’t expecting. “For what? For my spectacular cock-up in Mombasa?"
“For waking me up. For coming down for me. I wouldn't call that a cock-up.”
Eames stares down at his bowl. “Oh. I mean. You’d have done it for me.”
Arthur shrugs. “I know. But it’s nice to know that you’re there.”
“I put my name on the lease,” Eames says and then he shoves a forkful of food into his mouth.
Arthur smiles, dimples and laugh lines creasing his face. “When did you do that?”
“Three months ago. You were on the Carmine job and I was. Well, I was hiding from you.” It’s a rush to admit it and know it won’t happen again.
Arthur’s still smiling. “I didn’t know you liked this place that much.”
“I’ve learned to love it,” he says. “It grows on you.”