The buzz of a new call sounded and Arthur took a moment to suspiciously eye the flash of an unknown number before sliding his finger across the screen and answering his phone with a crisp but guarded: “Arthur.”
“Darling!” The voice on the other end answered, the word rolling off of Eames’ tongue like a purr and Arthur couldn’t quite decide whether he wanted to roll his eyes at the honorific or smile secretly to himself at the affection in his tone.
“Eames,” he greeted, voice as crisp and guarded as his initial answering had been.
“Darling, I am in desperate need of your expertise.”
“You have a job?” He questioned.
“I have five days left of a job and suddenly find myself without a Point Man.”
Arthur frowned. “What happened to him?” He asked, because people don’t just walk out in the middle of jobs in their kind of work. Not unless they have a very good reason to want to bring about the sorts of consequences a bad reference or two could cause them in the future.
“He’s dead. Found himself on the wrong end of a .45 after some kind of backroom hustle gone wrong.” Eames answered, just as casually as if he were commenting upon the weather.
“Eames!” Arthur hissed, back suddenly up. “Are you a complete idiot? Get your ass out of Cape Town-,”
“-I don’t know what kind of dodgy dealings you’re into but if you expect me to get involved-,”
“Arthur!” Eames cut through Arthur’s rant. “His untimely departure has nothing to do with this job. The guy was a bit of an idiot and ended up in the sort of place most tourists avoid.”
“Whatever the reason, the job should- at the very least- have been put on hold. If they trace him back to you-,”
“I’ve already got every alert known to man set in case the police get onto us, but there’s really nothing to suggest his death was anything more than a tourist mugging gone wrong.”
“Have you considered the possibility that someone other than the police could be on to you?” He pressed.
“Arthur, please. Our Mark isn’t even worth the effort we’re going to. And whilst your worry is very touching, I need to know if you’ll come? I’m staying, and I would really appreciate your help in sorting through Jamieson’s notes.”
He hesitated. “What’s the job?”
He heard Eames breathe a small sigh of relief, as if the question were a confirmation and Arthur would take the job no matter what it was. It was in his mind to refuse it instantly, though curiosity bade him find out exactly what it entailed first- if only to ensure that Eames wasn’t about to get himself killed on some harebrained scheme. He didn’t remember him being this loyal when things were going to hell at the start of the Inception job.
The job sounded simple enough despite Eames’ vague description. From what Arthur could gather it would be a straightforward two layer extraction and that most of the prep work had already been completed. The only problem was that this Jamieson guy had been trying to source a secure location for the second layer- some place the Mark would feel safe enough to expose his secrets. Eames believed the answer lay somewhere in Jamieson’s notes but… well-
“-the state of his office is beyond even my capabilities to comprehend, and we don’t have the time to start from scratch. You’re the best, Arthur.” Eames said, before ending his speech with: “I really need your help on this one.”
Arthur glared at nothing in particular. “Flattery won’t get you anywhere, Mr Eames.”
“Come now, Darling. It’s a piss-easy job all things considered. You won’t even need to come under with us. Just help us out with the info for the secondary layer and you’re home free.”
He felt himself wavering. If he took this on (providing it was as safe and simple as Eames made it out to be), it would be the first job he’d taken since the fortuitous disaster that had been the Inception job, and his first without Cobb in a long while. It had been almost two months since they’d preformed Inception and, despite the circumstances, he was more than a little twitchy at being out of work for so long.
“Your flight leaves from JFK within the next three hours,” Eames said into Arthur’s prolonged silence.
“I haven’t said I’ll do it yet.” Arthur reminded him, voice steely.
“You’ll do it,” Eames said, managing to sound both thankful and smug in the same breath.
Arthur rolled his eyes, mostly at himself, as he wondered when Eames had gotten so good at reading him. Or maybe he’d always been this good and Arthur had merely forgotten just how annoying his clairvoyant moments could be.
“How can you be so sure I’ll agree?” He asked without argument.
Instead of answering however, Eames returned with: “How did you know I was in Cape Town?”
- - -
“I can’t believe you booked me into coach.” Were the first words Arthur grouched out upon seeing Eames, his brow furrowed with displeasure. His flight had landed forty minutes ago and after almost twenty-four hours of travelling with barely any sleep, he was feeling decidedly jetlagged and groggy and not at all pleased with his travel arrangements.
“Cobb’s been spoiling you,” Eames greeted, smiling amicably enough as he reached for Arthur’s bags.
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d just spent the better part of a day sandwiched between people with no concept of personal space. Or hygiene.” Arthur griped, letting Eames take one of his two small carry-on bags as he followed him towards the exit.
“I do like making new friends,” Eames easily returned as they stepped out of the airport and made their way towards the rented Toyota Eames had parked just outside the Arrivals terminal.
The heat was the first thing Arthur noticed. After the temperature controlled chill of the airport, stepping outside was like walking into a wall of muggy warmth. Instantly he felt his skin begin to prickle with sweat under the layers he’d worn for the journey and grimaced with distaste. He allowed himself the luxury of rolling up the sleeves of the cardigan he’d slipped on over his short-sleeved shirt and tie, to no avail. There wasn’t a breath of air to be had so far as he could tell.
“I’ve been outside for less than ten minutes and already I feel all hot and sweaty.” He muttered, sliding himself into the front passenger seat.
“Oh, Darling, and all I had to do was carry your bags!” Eames grinned at him, starting the engine; cold air immediately began filtering through the car as the air conditioning came on. Arthur tried unsuccessfully not to roll his eyes as Eames manoeuvred them out of the airport.
“What is it with you and the southern hemisphere anyway?” He asked, reaching out to angle one of the vents more in his direction; enjoying the way his skin shivered up at the cool touch of air.
“You know me, Arthur. I love a country that doesn’t require me to wear anything more than a shirt.”
“I’ve seen your shirts, Mr Eames. Trust me when I tell you that no one wants you wearing those either.”
“So…” Eames drawled, slanting a quick look at Arthur as he overtook an overloaded pick-up truck, “does that mean you want to see me without my shirt on?”
Arthur felt his lips quirk despite himself. He’d left himself wide open for that one, he supposed. He turned his head to look more fully at Eames, dragging his eyes assessingly over his upper body and admiring the firm flex of muscle that filled out the shirt he wore. It was coloured in a muted shade of salmon pink and… was that orange and brown interspersed between a pattern that couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be paisley or floral in design?
Arthur made a face, quickly averting his eyes before the full horror of the design could imprint itself upon his brain.
“If that’s what I must suffer through en lieu of another paisley disaster then I suppose I’ll just have to cope.”
Eames laughed. “You say the sweetest things.”
Arthur didn’t quite manage to suppress his smile this time and turned to survey the view from his window. He couldn’t see much as they left the vicinity of the airport and made their way towards the city centre. Night fell quickly in Africa and it was already gone past five in the evening. He watched as the streetlights came on, and the city lit up before them as they drove closer towards her.
He found his eyes drifting back to Eames, who seemed content to continue their journey in silence. Arthur wanted to ask where they were going, what the particulars of the job were to be, how Eames was enjoying working with this new team after having preformed Inception, and whether or not this was his first job since then… but most of all, Arthur found himself wanting to ask how Eames himself was, and how he’d been in the months since they’d last seen each other.
Arthur frowned lightly to himself and turned his head back to stare out of the side window. They were passing by what looked like a shanty town, the corrugated sheet-metal and brick houses blurring together as Eames sped them down the freeway. He let himself be distracted by the sight until he felt his eyes beginning to droop.
“What didn’t you tell me on the phone?” Arthur asked, pushing himself up more fully from where he’d begun to slump in his seat.
“Not much. Just the details really. Check the cubby.” Eames gestured towards the dashboard and Arthur reached over to open it. Inside he found a blank manila folder. He flipped it open, finding a page of stats on their Mark, a brief summary of what their employer wanted them to acquire, and a few grainy pictures of the man he assumed was their Mark. A few of the pictures showed him with a girl, or hanging around what looked to be a dockyard.
“The Mark?” He asked, scanning the details and familiarising himself with the man’s face and stats.
“Deon Roets, thirty-three. Works on the Ben Shoeman Dock in the Port of Cape Town. Believed to be helping smuggle in black market goods by forging shipping data.” Eames rhymed off.
“The girl?” Arthur asked. Where Deon Roets was a squat, unpleasant looking thing, the girl he stood with in most of the pictures was the opposite, standing tall and shapely, with a face that would be pretty if not for the petulant pout she wore in every picture.
“Bianca Booyzen. Mark’s Girlfriend.” Eames said with a grin as he responded to the way Arthur was frowning at the picture.
“Your forge?” He assumed, looking up as Eames laughed.
“You’re good.” He teased.
Arthur smirked. “You’re just predictable.”
“She has great features,” Eames defended, but he was still laughing.
Arthur thumbed through the scant pages a moment longer before closing the file. “What do you need me for?”
“Exactly what I asked for. A Point Man. We need a secondary location for me to lead the Mark to. We’ve got the docks as a starting point, but we need to know where he feels the safest, where we can take him to and have him reveal his secrets. Namely the container numbers and dates of the next shipments.”
Arthur nodded. It all sounded simple enough. “And this is what Jamieson was working on?”
“Yeah. He was scouting a few locations, but like I said, going through his notes was proving more of a hindrance than a help. The guy did not fully appreciate the benefits of a rubbish bin.”
Arthur snorted. “And if his notes prove futile?”
“Then we need you to come up with a secondary location if at all possible.”
“I thought there wasn’t time to start from scratch?” He asked, frowning.
“There isn’t,” Eames agreed.
“And if I can’t find what you need?”
Eames shot him an amused look, as if he didn’t for one moment believe that Arthur couldn’t pull this off for them.
“If I can’t?” He repeated, because as enamouring as Eames’ faith in him was, Arthur was a realist and liked to deal in facts.
Eames shrugged. “Then the job’s a bust and we all go home with our tails between our legs. Francois- you’ll meet him this evening- is looking for an excuse to put this one on hold after what happened with Jamieson. But between his wife and myself we’ve managed to convince him to hold off until I brought you in.”
From the brief research he’d managed to do on Eames’ crew, he knew that Francois du Plessis was the lead on this job. An older man whom Arthur had been surprised to find he hadn’t heard of before agreeing (though he used the term loosely) to this job, Francois held several degrees in Chemistry and Physics and his foray into Dreamshare seemed a relatively new one, though his wife (so far as Arthur knew of her) had been in the business for a while. Still he trusted Eames’ judgement of people, and he couldn’t fault Francois for wanting to back off a job like this when it was precisely what he’d wanted Eames to do.
Wryly he asked: “And how long do I have to perform this miracle?”
“Three days. Well…” Eames began then paused, shooting him a somewhat sheepish smile before turning away again. “Two days if you discount today. Less than that if you count that we need any information you can get us by day two.”
Arthur shot him a decidedly unimpressed look. Eames kept his eyes fixed firmly on the road. As if he wasn’t tired enough already after travelling half-way around the world, now he was going to have to pull what would effectively be an all-nighter whilst running on little to no sleep.
He pursed his lips, pressing his fingers against his eyes where he could already feel the burn of tiredness. “Tell me what happened to Jamieson.”
Eames side-eyed him, looking away before Arthur could read into his expression.
“There’s not much else to tell. He was a bit of an idiot, like I said, and got himself killed as a result.”
“Details, Mr Eames,” Arthur pressed. “You said it was a ‘backroom hustle gone wrong’. Well, what went wrong?”
“Honestly, Arthur, he was just in the wrong part of town. Week before last it was. We think he was trying to get in on a poker game our Mark frequents.” He gave a half-shrug.
“You told me his death had nothing to do with this job!” Arthur snapped, rounding on Eames.
“It didn’t! Well, not entirely…” Eames had the decency at least to look contrite. “I’d tried to warn him off of going to places like that, at least not without me as a backup, but he was young and cocky and thought he could just walk in and out with the intel he needed.”
“I don’t care what kind of idiot he was.” He glared at Eames. “I care about the fact you lied to get me here.”
“Arthur, I admit he went there because of the Mark, but that’s not why he was killed.” He answered, making out as if it were no big deal.
Arthur frowned, annoyed at Eames for playing him for a fool. Annoyed with himself for placing enough trust in Eames to take him at his word. A few minutes dragged by with Eames shooting him covert glances every few seconds as Arthur mulled the situation over. No doubt he was wondering if Arthur would demand an about turn back towards the airport. He briefly considered it, but dismissed the thought as quickly as it came. He was here now, he could at least see what kind of help he could offer to the job. There would be time later to kick Eames’ ass for withholding this from him.
“Why was he there at all?” He eventually asked. “Was he was looking at it as a secondary?”
“There is that assumption anyway,” Eames replied, a note of relief in his voice. As if (once again) he knew Arthur would do this for him. “Long story short, he was mugged leaving the game. He was smart enough not to take anything in with him bar money so the police have nothing more than another John Doe, at least until they have his fingerprints identified. Got at least another week or two before that though.”
Arthur didn’t ask if he was sure, he’d already checked himself and ensured the prints wouldn’t be identified until they were both long gone. “And your alerts?”
“Not a peep.” Eames swiftly answered. “No one is looking for us. Or him. I promise.”
Arthur hummed. “Is there anything else you want to tell me about this job?”
“Can I plead the fifth?” Eames teased.
“I believe you have to be American for that to apply,” Arthur replied, unimpressed.
Eames grinned at him and Arthur scowled, crossing his arms over his chest and turning to stare out of the side window again.
“Inquisition over?” Eames asked, half-amused, half-serious.
“Not by a long shot, Mr Eames.”
- - -
Arthur prided himself on being the sort of go-to man upon which everyone could rely. There wasn’t much incentive to having a Point who, whilst good at his job, was not in any way reliable. Arthur knew many a failed Point who thought that just because they played at being the font of all knowledge that this somehow excused them faults of tardiness or fallibility.
Almost twenty-seven hours without sleep (yes, he was counting, and no, sleep in any quantity on an airplane did not count) and a cup of coffee that tasted as though it were scraped off the bottom of somebody’s boot later and Arthur was seriously considering becoming one of those unreliable sorts who just up and left mid-way through a job. Or, in this case, admitted defeat before the job was even started.
Damn Eames and his last minute phone calls! He thought with a scowl, as he found himself in what had previously been Jamieson’s office, with a mountain of paperwork with which to work through and no sign of an end to any of it.
They’d arrived at the apartments they were renting in De Waterkant a few hours previously and Arthur’s annoyance with both Eames and himself was not improved when they walked into the front room only to be greeted by what sounded like a clatter of glass bottles and hushed but angry voices coming from the kitchen.
That in itself wouldn’t have been enough to raise his hackles, but then Eames caught him at the elbow, making to steer him towards the staircase instead.
“How about I show you around first,” he said without question, quirking a smile at Arthur.
The only thing Arthur felt like quirking was an eyebrow.
“How about you tell me exactly what’s going on?” He countered, planting his feet more firmly and tugging away from Eames’ grip.
“Come now, Darling, don’t be like that.”
“Don’t you, Darling me, Mr Eames,” He said in a tone that brooked no argument. “What have you gotten me into?”
“Nothing!” Eames protested, never losing his smile. “No seriously!” He laughed at Arthur’s look of disbelief.
“Things are just a little stressed right now, what with Jamieson and all. We have a deadline to meet and there’s some doubt as to whether we can pull this off with you coming in so late. I’ve already mentioned Francois isn’t happy about this job, but Zama wants to give you a chance. It’s a bit of a sore point. They’ve been arguing about it since we agreed to call you in.”
Arthur eyed him suspiciously a moment but could detect no lie. That didn’t necessarily mean anything though. Eames was a skilled forger in more ways than one, after all, and Arthur had already fallen for his silver tongue once.
All the same, he found himself relenting. Whatever flaws Eames may have, (including but not limited to using half-truths to get Arthur into questionable situations) he trusted the other man to have his back.
“Didn’t you tell them who you were bringing in?” He finally asked, straight-faced.
“Of course, Darling!” Eames grinned, “I told them I was bringing in the best!”
Eames’ version of the best and the du Plessis’ version of the best was clearly not one and the same however. Arthur had let Eames show him around the three floored apartment (Arthur’s room was to be on the lower ground floor; Jamieson’s office, the lounge-cum-meeting room, and the kitchen were on the ground floor; and the other two bedrooms were on the first floor), giving the couple a chance to finish whatever discussion they were having before the introductions.
By the time Eames led Arthur back onto the main floor, the du Plessis’ were ready and waiting for them. The Chemist, Francois du Plessis, shot them an annoyed look, as though they’d been the ones keeping him waiting and not the other way around. He was of average height and quite built, with heavily tanned skin and a thick Afrikaans accent that managed to both disguise and accentuate the distaste in his voice as he acknowledged Arthur’s presence with a gruff greeting.
His wife, their Architect, however welcomed him with a friendly warmth and a bright if slightly tight smile. She stood an inch or two taller than her husband, and where he was built she was willowy, with dark skin and her hair wrapped up in a tie-dyed scarf. She introduced herself as Zama and willingly took his hand in a shake.
“Arthur Darling, was it?” She asked. Arthur blinked.
“No, no. It’s just Arthur.” He answered, watching as Zama shared a curious look with Eames.
“Ah. I see.” She smiled. Arthur frowned lightly, side-eying Eames who just smiled at him. He wondered what exactly he’d been saying about him.
“I do hope you’ll be able to help us with our problem,” Zama pressed on and Arthur quickly turned his attention back to her.
“I hope so too,” he agreed. Francois snorted but otherwise remained silent, his eyes fixed uncomfortably upon Arthur.
“Is there anything you need?” Zama asked, touching at Francois’ arm even as she flicked her eyes between Arthur and Eames.
“Only coffee, if you have any.” Arthur said, already beginning to feel himself flagging and hoping to get this awkward moment over and done with. “Aside from that, I should be fine to get started.”
Zama frowned at him. “You don’t want to rest after your flight?”
Arthur smiled at her concern. “From what Eames has told me, you need the secondary location the day after next?” Zama nodded. “Then I think I’d better start now.”
And he had, after a quick shower to wash the stain of extended travel from his skin, Arthur finally stepped into the room he was to take over as an office.
During Eames’ brief tour of the apartment, he hadn’t allowed himself to look too closely at the towering piles of paper littered all over the room, telling himself that there must have been some sort of order to the precariously balanced bundles stacked haphazardly upon every available workspace.
Fifteen minutes alone in the room and it became worryingly clear that even had there been some kind of order, between Jamieson’s obvious hoarding and the shuffling everyone else had done trying to find the notes they needed, it had all become nothing more than one very large mess.
And Arthur was going to have to go through every single piece of it in the hopes of finding the diamond in the rough. He wasn’t entirely sure what Jamieson had hoped to achieve with what could only be classed as quantity of information over the quality of it. Surely the man had heard of spreadsheets? Word documents? Hell, he’d take a damn PowerPoint presentation over this confusion of paperwork.
Finding a starting point was always the first hurdle to something like this. If he’d had more time, Arthur would have just scrapped everything and started from scratch- he never really trusted another Point’s notes- but he didn’t have time and the longer he stood around, staring in despair at the workload before him, the less time he had to actually do the job he’d been hired to do.
With nothing else for it, and presuming he was alone for the night with the Du Plessis’ having retired to the top floor of the apartment and Eames having disappeared out with a promise to return shortly (a promise which Arthur promptly disregarded, assuming not without reason that Eames would be out at a local watering hole or, God forbid, gaming den), Arthur prepared himself for a long night with absolutely no sleep.
So when Eames returned a few hours later with a bag of take-out and a coffee holder, it was to find Arthur sitting on the floor; his shirt sleeves rolled up, tie loosened and the top few buttons of his shirt undone, surrounded by every piece of paper the first Point Man had the indecency to leave behind and looking completely frazzled.
Most of the paperwork was unnecessary shit and Arthur found himself putting most of it into heaps for shredding. Anything of any note was simply re-written on the legal pad he had balanced on one knee or on the pile of post-it notes balanced on the other. His fingers were stained with ink and colour from the fountain pen and highlighters he was currently juggling between them and his mouth and he suspected a glance in a mirror would find his face smudged with at least a bit more. He ran the fingers of his left hand through his hair in frustration- uncaring of the way the long strands simply fell forward into his eyes again.
It wasn’t until the stimulating aroma of coffee assaulted his senses that Arthur even realised someone was there at all. He looked up, momentarily startled to find Eames staring at him with a look of complete and utter disbelief at the sight of him. Before he could even think about feeling embarrassed at being caught in so ungainly a position however, he spotted the extra large cups of coffee Eames was carrying.
“Oh, thank God!” he blurted, completely forgetting about the fountain pen held between his lips until it fell from his mouth, inking a dark splatter down the front of his crisp white shirt on its way down towards his lap.
Temporarily sidetracked, Arthur stared down at his shirt with incredulity. He could not believe that had just happened. And in front of Eames no less. Eames who considered Arthur rolling his shirtsleeves up to be positively indecent, never mind catching him in such a state of disarray.
And now he’d gone and made a fool of himself with the damn pen.
This job was really not going his way. And considering he’d barely made a dent on the paperwork, he wasn’t holding out much hope of things improving anytime soon.
There came a choked sort of sound and Arthur looked up with a scowl this time to find Eames watching him with the biggest grin on his face, as if all his Christmases had come at once and he was savouring every second of this for future blackmailing purposes.
“Not a word, Mr Eames.” Arthur growled in the face of his obvious amusement.
“Wouldn’t dream of it, Darling,” Eames agreed, looking utterly charmed and besotted by Arthur’s display of imperfection. Arthur bristled, narrowing his eyes.
“I believe you were about to bribe me with coffee,” Arthur stiffly prompted when Eames seemed content to simply stand in the doorway and stare at him.
“Who needs to bribe?” Eames laughed, but he stepped forward and held out the tray of coffees, allowing Arthur to pick one out.
He inhaled the rich scent of proper coffee, made with actual coffee beans instead of whatever instant rubbish they were tying to pass off as caffeine in the kitchen, before taking his first sip. He closed his eyes a moment, savouring the taste with a soft moan. Eames chuckled then, moving further into the room but Arthur ignored him, content to enjoy this moment right up until he felt Eames run his fingers through his hair. He blinked his eyes open then, tilting his head to lift an enquiring and not entirely amused eyebrow in question. Eames just smiled and ran his hand through his hair again.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you with your hair un-gelled.” Eames said, softly, as if to himself. He wasn’t quite smiling as he met Arthur’s eyes but there was a softness to his mouth that Arthur hadn’t quite noticed before. He found himself staring at Eames’ mouth for longer than was strictly necessary, or indeed proper.
Arthur coughed, shifting his head enough to have Eames pull his hand away. He stared hard at his coffee before taking a large gulp, wincing at the way it burnt a trail down the back of his throat.
“So where’ve you got to?” Eames asked then, making space to his side and settling himself on the floor beside Arthur. He rolled his shoulders, as though shrugging off the moment.
Arthur blinked at him, thrown. “You’re staying?” He asked, somewhat redundantly as he watched Eames flick through the pile he’d started for shredding.
“You didn’t think I was going to leave you to do this by yourself, did you?” Eames asked, throwing him a grin.
“Well, yes, actually.” Because. Well. Yes. He’d been under the impression than none of them had the time to spare to do this job. “I assumed by the fact that you called me in at all meant you couldn’t do it yourselves?”
“And we can’t. Not with the same sort of finesse as you by any means,” Eames agreed, “but I’m not without my uses. We’ve reached a point now where we’re all waiting for the next move. Or rather, the next layer, before we can do anything else. You may consider me your knight in shining armour, I am at your service.”
Arthur snorted. “After all your conniving to get me here, you’d better be.”
“Honestly, Arthur, you’d think I’d brought you into this under false pretences.” He said, grinning.
Arthur shot him a wry look, not quite having forgiven him for belying the truth of Jamieson’s death.
“I suspect you’ll be more of a hindrance than anything else,” he said without bite, handing over a folder crammed full with scraps of paper. “I suppose asking you to leave me alone would be too much?”
Eames smirked, readily accepting the offering. “Arthur, Darling, in all the years you’ve known me, when have I ever left you to work in peace?”
“God forbid you start now,” he agreed, raising an eyebrow at the way Eames used the honorific. Eames just hummed happily to himself and got to work.
- - -
They made it through the night and into the early hours of what was to constitute as day two of three (no matter that Arthur didn’t get into Cape Town until late the previous evening, or that day three was technically the day he was to present the team with the information they were looking for) and Arthur was finally in a position to start making sense of everything.
Between Eames and himself they had Jamieson’s paperwork sorted into piles of ‘shit’ and ‘more shit’, with plans to burn them on something Eames referred to as a ‘braai’ but which Arthur suspected was just the South African way of saying a barbecue.
He’d rewritten anything of import in his own hand and stuck the most concise of them to a pin board previously used for take-out menus. Eames had helpfully supplied post-it note smiley faces and amusing comments on each of the places Arthur had managed to salvage as possible secondary layer locations.
So far they’d managed to narrow down Jamieson’s rather large list of prospects to:
- The ‘office’ at his home;
The Mark’s girlfriend, Bianca, had not only been kind (read: greedy) enough to agree to let them perform an extraction on her boyfriend. But she’d been more than happy to let them into the home they shared for a few extra bucks. The office was really nothing more than a games room with a large telly and assorted video games and consoles stashed around the place. According to Eames, who’d been told by the girlfriend, this is where Deon spent the most time when he wasn’t working, with her or out with the boys.
To the pin board Eames had added a post-it note with a Mario-esque mushroom man grinning somewhat sinisterly up at them.
- The gambling den;
Which Arthur wanted to rule out on principle but which Eames insisted was a logical suggestion since ‘out with the boys’ usually meant they ended up at the den drinking and gambling. It was also the sort of seedy establishment where one conducted illegal business matters.
Arthur shot him a look, not wanting to know what kind of places Eames usually conducted his illegal business matters.
“I’ll hold your hand if you’re scared, Darling.” Eames had offered, misinterpreting his look and laughing at Arthur’s reluctance to include the den in his list. An unamused scowl from Arthur had shut him up, but hadn’t entirely managed to wipe the grin from Eames’ face.
After Arthur had grudgingly added the location to the pin board, Eames had attached his own post-it note depicting two smiling stick figures holding hands and grinning.
Arthur snorted at the picture but left it where it was. For now, at least.
- The office at work;
It wasn’t much more than a glorified shipping container itself, with allowances made for a side door and a small plastic window hole, but it was secure enough and the perfect place to conduct his business with little interruption or suspicion directed his way.
Personally Arthur favoured his workplace for a secondary layer. It was familiar, he frequented it almost every day of the week for extended periods of time, and it was associated with work; the perfect place to get him to reveal work-sensitive information.
Eames was worried the workplace would be too much of the same, as the first layer was modelled to represent the dockyard where he worked already. Eames- forged as Bianca- would approach the Mark and make out that she’d been threatened by some people asking about the black-market goods. This, in theory, should prompt the Mark to take her to a ‘safe’ place where, with some careful (if hysterical) questioning, she should be able to get all the information she needed out of him.
“If you’re making out these men came to the house looking for him, then that automatically puts the home out of the equation.” Arthur said.
“But if he’s keeping the information at home then I’d want him to take me back there.” Eames argued.
“It’s too risky. If ‘Bianca’s’ just come from there, and she’s freaking out, it wouldn’t make sense for her to want to go back so soon.” Arthur returned. “I also don’t think she’d want to be taken to the gambling den.”
Eames smirked at that comment but said nothing of Arthur’s aversion to the place. “But it’s not about her,” he insisted, “It’s about getting the Mark to reveal his secrets.”
“He’s not going to take his girlfriend there,” Arthur said with a shake of his head. “You’ve already told me she’s never been inside that place. It wouldn’t make sense for him to take her there.”
“The fact she’s never been there makes it a good candidate. It’s the only place on the list she’s been excluded from.”
“The man goes there to drink and bet away his wages-,”
“A guy needs a hobby!” Eames interrupted, teasing.
Arthur pressed on: “-even if he were conducting his business there, it’s not going to be the first place he’d want to take her to.”
“Desperate times, desperate measures.” Was Eames’ reply.
Arthur shook his head, exasperated. If he weren’t so pressed for time to find the secondary location, he’d swear that Eames was insisting on options one and two for the sheer delight of frustrating him. In the end, they’d had to agree to disagree, at least until Arthur finished the rest of his research and could legitimately discount them.
There was one other option for a secondary layer, but it was risky enough that Arthur had hesitated even mentioning it to Eames in the first place.
- The unknown location;
Which was exactly what it sounded like. A location that no one could know of before entering the dream. Eames would have to let the Mark lead them to a place of his own choosing, and hope that his mind accepted the location with little to no fanfare (a good possibility, since the dreamer never really noticed that anything was amiss to start with). The other problem (or perk, depending on how you looked at things) with this method was that it would all have to be conducted on the top level of the dream.
“Why are you going for two levels anyway?” Arthur asked, adding three question marks under the header for the forth possible location to the pin board. “You’re putting him under in his own home with the permission of his girlfriend, you don’t have a time limit, and so far as I can tell he’s never even heard of Extraction so the likelihood of him being militarized is less than none.”
“Isn’t that what you thought about Fischer?” Eames asked, but not unkindly.
Arthur stared at him a moment, tense, but Eames only looked curious. It was a reasonable question he knew. He was supposed to be one of the best Points in the business and yet he’d still somehow managed to miss the most crucial piece of information on their Mark.
He hadn’t been out of work for the last two months because he’d lacked for jobs. He’d been obsessively re-researching Fischer, digging even deeper than he had before the Inception job, but there wasn’t so much as a whisper of a job being done on, for, or with the man. He’d phoned every contact he knew trying to find out who was in the business of militarising minds, but again, nothing. So far as he could find out, Fischer knew absolutely nothing about Dreamsharing. A fact they all knew to be a falsehood. It made him question everything he knew about his own abilities.
He’d hadn’t been out of work because he lacked for jobs, he’d been out because he wasn’t sure if he was capable of performing them.
And he suspected Eames knew that if the way he was looking at him was anything to go by. Absently he wondered if that was partly the reason Eames seemed so keen for his to take on this job.
Arthur turned away, busying himself with the pin board. “I can only go by what I know.”
“I know.” Eames said, softly. He moved closer, bumping his shoulder against Arthur’s. Arthur pushed back.
“It just seems like a lot of extra effort to go to for this sort of job,” he said, turning the conversation back to the layers and relaxing minutely when Eames went along with him.
“Wasn’t my call. Francois is on lead with this one and Zama called me in because he refuses to go under so they needed an Extractor-Forger for the job.”
“He won’t go under?” Arthur asked, curious.
Eames shook his head. “Don’t think he wants to chance it. Bad experience with addiction.” He added and Arthur nodded, thinking back to the notes he’d made on the man.
“Strange for him to be in this business?” he led. Eames half-shrugged but said nothing further.
“Is it worth suggesting the forth option, do you think?” Arthur asked, moving on.
“What are you thinking?” Eames frowned.
“If I can gather as much information on these three locations, Zama can add the details to her designs so wherever the Mark leads you will already be set up. You’ll just have to wing the rest of it.”
“You have that much faith in my abilities?” Eames asked, grinning again.
“Shut up. You know you can do it.”
“I do,” he agreed, “but I’m not so sure they’ll like the idea.”
Arthur frowned. They hadn’t spoken much about Eames’ fellow team members, but it was obvious that there was something not quite right going on between them. He thought back to the way Francois had stared at him with barely disguised contempt and shifted uncomfortably.
Still, he thought, turning back to the problem at hand. The fourth option was better than nothing and a right sight better than some of the other options Jamieson had come up with (including, but not limited to, the local beach - a place the Mark hadn’t visited more than a handful of times since he was a kid and would have absolutely no place to hide a secret; Table Mountain - a tourist trap, and certainly nothing the locals bothered with if they could help it; and his car - his car. The logic of that suggestion was too much this early in the morning and he’d ripped that suggestion up without so much as a comment on its ridiculousness.)
“You want to take a break?” Eames asked then, checking his watch.
Arthur turned from the pin board. “Hmm?”
“It’s just gone seven,” Eames said, “which means there should be a coffee shop opening round about now.”
“Oh. Bring me back one?” He asked.
“You don’t want to come? Might do you good to get out of this room for a bit.”
Arthur shook his head. He planned to spend the better part of today finding out as much about the three locations as possible. The remainder of the day would be spent consolidating all the information he had and deciding which of the four options to present to the Du Plessis’ the next morning.
“No. I’m going to tidy up a bit here, grab a quick shower, then head out,” he said.
“You planning to eat or sleep anytime soon?” Eames casually asked.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “The not sleeping part is entirely your fault, Mr Eames.”
“And your excuse for not eating?” Eames pressed.
“I ate last night.” He answered with an eye roll.
“Only because I bought you dinner.”
“So, buy me breakfast then,” he said with a rare grin, “And coffee. I positively demand coffee.”
Eames just shook his head fondly before leaving. Once alone, Arthur took a moment to survey the room, impressed that they’d managed to get so much work done between them. Aside from the large piles of paper to be disposed of, the room was practically bare when compared to what he’d walked in on the previous evening.
As predicted, Eames was as much of a hindrance as he was a help, but Arthur appreciated the distraction all the same, and was ridiculously grateful that Eames had been obliging enough to offer his own time to help out. He found himself smiling as he cleared away enough space on the desk to set his laptop down and pull up a few browser tabs.
He hadn’t meant to fall asleep…
It was just going on seven-thirty, the sun was shining brightly through the room’s large window and the muggy heat enveloping Cape Town had steadily been creeping into the room since the sun first began to rise, despite the air-conditioning Arthur was running on high.
One minute he’d been typing away at a spreadsheet document, and the next he was being jolted awake by Eames’ voice.
“Time to wake up, Darling,” Eames whispered against the shell of his ear.
Arthur jerked up at the sensation as much as the sound, his eyes springing open instantly as he tried to work out where he was and what was going on. It only took a few seconds for Arthur to realise that he’d fallen asleep. He could feel his cheeks heat at the knowledge and groaned, dropping his head into his hands a moment before scrubbing them across his face in a bid to wake himself up more fully. He’d fallen asleep on his notepad and he could feel the damp crease across his face from where his skin had pressed into the pages.
He’d never done something so unprofessional in his life! He’d only meant to close his eyes for a minute, to rub the burn of tiredness from them whilst Eames was out getting them coffee. It had just felt so good to keep them closed for a few seconds… and then a few seconds longer… and then…
A clunk beside him had him looking up at Eames who’d just placed a rather large cup of coffee on the desk beside him. The noise Arthur made at the sight of it was embarrassing enough that he’d never admit to having made it, but at the same time, it wasn’t enough to stop him from grabbing at the cup and clinging to it as though it were some kind of lifeline.
“If I didn’t think you’d kill me for it, I’d go so far as to say you look quite adorable all sleep-mussed and confused,” Eames declared, grinning at him from the relative safety of the far wall, which he’d casually retreated to after handing over the coffee.
Arthur glared blearily at him, feelings of mortification slowly dispelling as the coffee began to work its way through his system. After what Eames had seen last night (his hair was still falling messily into his face, his shirt was beyond ruin after the disaster with his own fountain pen, and the somewhat embarrassing moment where Eames had tried to casually brush a smudge of ink from his jaw still remained between them), Arthur felt as though he shouldn’t have anything further to be embarrassed about.
And he didn’t, until he sat himself up more fully and rolled his shoulders to get the stiffness out them after lying hunched over the desk for however long he’d been out. He felt something slide off his shoulders at the motion and grabbed at… a jacket?
He blinked at the brown tweed jacket a long moment before realisation dawned and he turned his gaze back to Eames.
“How long have I been out?” He snapped, not meaning to sound so ungrateful, but the sudden panic that he’d been asleep long enough for Eames to come across him and lay his jacket over his shoulders was just too much to compute at this present moment in time.
And yet… his coffee was still hot enough to suggest that he couldn’t have been out for much longer than a half-hour at the most.
“I couldn’t bear to wake you,” Eames justified, not looking even a little bit sorry.
“Damnit, Eames, I don’t have time to sleep!” He growled, checking his watch to see he’d been out for close to two hours. He pushed up and shoved Eames’ jacket into his hands, ignoring Eames’ self-satisfied smile as he muttered a quick thank you- for the gesture, if nothing else.
“I’m going for a shower. I’ll see you later.”
“I’ll wait here. I brought you back some breakfast too.” Eames said, settling in at the desk Arthur had just vacated and booting up his laptop.
Arthur paused on his way to the door. “Don’t you have things to do today?”
“I believe I’m playing tour guide with you today. We are still scouting out potential locations, aren’t we?”
“Well, yes, but I assumed-,”
Eames waved the rest of his comment away, ignoring Arthur’s sudden glare as he input his password without pause for thought.
“It’ll save time if nothing else.” He said, “Unless you don’t care for my company anymore, Darling?”
Arthur snorted but refrained from actually answering as he left the room.
- - -
Arthur dropped his pen onto the notebook in front of him and pressed his fingers against the itch of his eyes, wishing he could call it a night. He was feeling decidedly drained and out of sorts since getting back to the apartment some hours ago.
The muggy heat he’d felt when stepping out of the airport the previous evening seemed to have doubled in its intensity and Arthur had never felt more uncomfortable in one of his expensively tailored suits as he had whilst out and scouting the three locations on his list with Eames.
He'd picked out a nice waistcoat and pant ensemble to go with his brown and cream brogues, but less than a minute under the hot African sun had him wishing he'd opted for a pair of board shorts and some flip-flops (never mind that he didn't own anything so classless).
He'd further regretted his choice of clothing when Eames stepped out behind him in a pair of light cotton trousers and a surprisingly tasteful shirt in a shade of sea green (tasteful in the sense that there wasn’t a pattern of any description to be seen). Eames had smirked at him, donning a pair of shades as he mockingly half-bowed and gestured for Arthur to precede him.
Arthur refused to start removing layers on principle, ignoring the way the wet heat seemed to press down on him as they made their way from location to location. His skin felt sticky and the sensation of sweat beading under his arms and at the backs of his knees made him wince in distaste.
Eames must have known of his distress, but beyond a few knowing smiles whenever Arthur ran his finger around his shirt collar or pushed the falling sleeves of his shirt back up his arms, he didn’t say a word. Arthur felt oddly grateful for his consideration. Lord knew their relationship previous to this job had always been one built up of casual insults and insinuations- nothing cruel or done with the intention to seriously offend, of course. If anything it was an amusement and kept things from becoming too dull. And yet, insofar as he’d been in Cape Town, Eames hadn’t done much in the way of ‘ripping the piss’ out of him (as he liked to say).
It was… nice. And at the same time, strangely disconcerting the way Eames seemed to be playing so nice with him.
He thought briefly over the past twenty-four hours and how Eames was always plying him with coffee and food, how he’d kept him entertained with witty comments about the job and the people he was working with, how he’d reach out and brush his hand over his arm to get his attention when Arthur was too zoned in to a particular task to notice him (how he’d ran his fingers through Arthur’s hair because he’d wanted to and how Arthur had almost wanted to let him keep doing it).
There was also a moment that morning before they’d left the apartment in De Waterkant for the inner city locations, when Arthur had been coming back up the stairs towards the main floor after showering and changing.
He’d heard half-raised voices and hesitated on the stairwell, not wanting to interrupt whatever argument was taking place. He’d just decided on heading back to his room before the sound of his name caught his attention. He faltered long enough to hear Francois voicing his concern over Arthur’s abilities as a Point Man and whether or not he could be counted on to deliver what they needed in the tight timeframe he’d been given. He’d heard things, apparently, about his time on Point with Cobb that left him with doubts as to Arthur’s capability.
Arthur bristled. This sort of comment, coming from someone who hadn’t been in the business all that long, was more than a little perturbing.
Eames had been quick to defend him, which was oddly warming if expected seeing as he’d called him in on this in the first place.
“There’s no one else we could have called in on such short notice.” Eames argued. “Arthur’s the best in the business, I don’t care what you’ve heard. There’s only so much a Point can be expected to do when paired with a lead who consistently chooses to pick up bad jobs and associates.”
There was a moment of silence and Arthur envisioned the two men sizing each other up before Francois swore. “Fine. But if he can’t deliver by tomorrow I’m calling this off. I don’t care what Zama says.”
“We won’t have to. There’s no one else I trust more than Arthur.”
The conversation ended then and Arthur gave it a few more moments before stepping up onto the main floor and slipping into the office. Eames was waiting for him and he offered him a somewhat tight smile as he headed for the desk and made a show of collecting his pocket notebook and a pen.
It was hard not to think about Francois’ words and feel the bite of them. He could tell himself over and over again that he was only doing this job because Eames had asked, but knowing that he was being thought of as incompetent before he’d even began left him with a bad taste in his mouth. And though it wasn’t the worst thing anyone had ever thought (or indeed said, about him, and even to his face), hearing it so soon after his monumental failure with the Inception job was enough to have him doubting himself and his abilities once more.
Eames had stepped up to him then and casually slipped his hand into Arthur’s, offering him a tight but quick squeeze of comfort.
“Eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves,” he quoted, but his smile was amused more than judging and Arthur snorted, feeling his momentary moroseness fade as Eames slid his hand away again.
“I don’t know, Mr Eames,” he easily returned, thinking instead about what Eames had said of him. “I think I heard some pretty good things about myself.”
Eames had laughed and Arthur allowed himself a small smile in return.
He smiled now to think on the moment even as he picked his notebook up again and slipped the end of his pen between his lips, thinking to get back to work.
Their foray into Cape Town earlier that day had proved mostly prosperous, at least for Arthur and his initial predictions for the secondary location.
They’d gone round to the Mark’s house first and managed to bribe his girlfriend into letting them into Deon’s ‘office’ for another look around. Arthur hadn’t found so much as a whiff of anything work-related in that room (or any of the others he’d slipped into on the way in and out of the house) but he’d taken a few discrete pictures on his phone regardless should Zama decide to incorporate any of the rooms into the Architectural designs.
Their next stop had been the gaming den, which was nothing more than a steel door leading down into a basement room beneath an auto repair shop. There was no way in or out of the den except through that door, and though Arthur had managed to procure the planning documents for the building, there wasn’t much else either Eames or himself could do without trying to get in for a game (something Eames thought he was up for, but which Arthur threatened bodily harm if he so much as considered it with any degree of seriousness).
The third stop was to the Dockyard where the Mark worked. It had been easy enough to walk into and look around. No one working there paid them a bit of notice (except to make mocking comments as to Arthur’s attire, but seeing as most of them were wearing what could only be described as dungarees, he barely paid them any heed). They’d separated as they approached the container-like offices (Eames not wanting to be seen by the Mark just in case he had to lose the forge in the dreamscape), and Arthur had gone on to engage the Mark in some quickly made up story about a missing shipment.
Not only had he been lucky enough to get a good look at the inside of the office space, but he’d managed to sneak a few video shots of the room too as he pretended to search for an emailed document. He’d also, much to Eames’ grudging approval, seen their Mark stashing some documents into a lockable filing cabinet and looking very guilty at being caught doing so. It might not have meant a thing, but where the other two locations proved futile, Arthur felt gratefully justified that his initial instinct was looking to be the most promising of them all.
Getting back to De Waterkant, Arthur wasted no time in downloading and printing the pictures and video snapshots in preparation for his presentation to the Du Plessis’ the following morning.
It was just going past ten in the evening and even though he still had so much more he could do, he felt himself slowing down as the lack of sleep and oppressive heat still hanging over the city began to take its toll him. He rocked onto the back legs of his chair, stretching his own legs out onto the desk as he eyed the map of the docklands he’d procured and pinned to the wall, and considered whether or not he could stomach some more of the instant coffee they had in the kitchen, or if he could bribe Eames to go and fetch him some more from whichever little coffeehouse he’d been visiting.
As if on cue, Eames stepped into the doorway; leaning himself casually against the frame as he eyed Arthur’s pose with appreciation.
“Alright, Darling?” He called over as Arthur looked up, his lips twisting up into a fleeting smile as he watched Eames drag his eyes along the length of him. He wasn’t even a little bit embarrassed at being caught with his feet up. Eames had seen him in worse positions of unprofessionalism this week after all.
“You owe me for this, Mr Eames.” He said.
“Yeah?” Eames grinned back in question. It was a tired sort of grin, Arthur noticed, realising that although he hadn’t had to suffer the burden of travel, Eames had still been up for almost as long as Arthur himself had.
“Yes.” Arthur agreed. “I don’t know what possessed me to agree to help you out here-,”
“-my devilishly good looks and irresistible charm?” Eames interrupted, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“I highly doubt it,” he quipped, softening the blow with a smile: “With all this work you’ve have me doing, I haven’t really been able to appreciate either, now have I?”
“Something we should remedy immediately!” Eames exclaimed then, pushing away from the doorframe and stepping towards Arthur’s desk with his hand extended in invitation.
Arthur hurriedly dropped his legs and the chair back to the floor, knowing first hand of Eames’ proclivity for tipping him.
“I really can’t-,” he started, gesturing half-heartedly to the pile of work he was still getting through for tomorrow.
“I won’t take no for an answer.” Eames insisted.
Arthur bit back a smile. “Eames…”
“No. No excuses.” He reached over and snagged Arthur’s hands up in his own, dragging him to his feet.
“We,” he began, plucking Arthur’s pen and pad from his hands and laying them down on the desk, “are going out for food, fresh air, and coffee, and whatever else it’ll take to get you to have a break.”
“Sleep?” Arthur asked, only half teasing as he let Eames man-handle him out of the room.
“We’ll see.” Eames laughed, taking his hand again and pulling him towards the front door.
Arthur stepped quickly after him, his fingers flexing against Eames’ before he casually extracted his hand. Eames took the motion in his stride, as he led them both out of the apartment they were holed up in and out into the muggy Capetonian night air.
- - -
“You’re going for the forth option aren’t you?” Eames asked as they settled in at some late night bistro that was trying so very hard to be old school American and hipster hang out all at the same time.
Arthur turned, half-distracted from the sight of some barely-of-age kid with his ass hanging out of his pants ordering from the 50’s styled bar.
“Yes, and no,” He answered, sipping at the strong coffee he’d ordered as soon as they were seated. “My preference is still for the work office, so I’ll suggest option three first and then give them four as an alternative. At least that way if they don’t trust my judgement they have the best possible fall back.”
Eames frowned. “Why would you think they wouldn’t trust you?”
Arthur shot him a look. “My eavesdropping aside,” he answered, “I wasn’t given the warmest of welcomes from Francois. And I shouldn’t say it based just on first impressions, but I suspect he’s the sort of man who’d disagree with me for the sake of it.”
Eames chuckled lightly. “You’re not wrong,” he agreed. “Except as much as he likes to think he’s in charge, it’s Zama who calls the shots. And she likes you.”
“You can’t know that,” he said, shaking his head. “I’ve barely spoken with the woman. She’s not likely to choose my opinion over her husband’s.”
“I can. And she will, if she believes it’s the right option.” Eames said with confidence. “Besides, I’ve already vouched for you, and she trusts my judgement.”
Arthur raised an enquiring eyebrow. “Am I missing something here?”
“What do you mean?” Eames asked slowly, as if he already knew what Arthur was asking but wasn’t going to make it easy for him.
Arthur hesitated, hiding his indecision behind another sip of coffee. He let his eyes roam around the bistro, ignoring Eames’ patient stare. It wasn’t really any of his business, of course. And he considered changing the subject entirely, except Eames was looking at him as though he wanted Arthur to ask.
“Is there something going on between you and Zama?” He asked finally. Eames’ eyes widened, his mouth dropping open in a rare sign of shock (though of course, it was a sight Arthur was fast becoming used to. He seemed to be continuously surprising Eames this week). And then he began to laugh.
“Are you serious?” Eames gasped.
Arthur shifted uncomfortably, scowling at the amusement shining in Eames’ eyes.
“Oh, Arthur, really?” He asked again, quickly quashing his laughter.
“It’s not an unreasonable conclusion to come to,” he defended.
“Zama and I have been friends for a long time. She’s utterly devoted to Francois.” Eames said and Arthur frowned at him.
“I haven’t been spending all of my time with Zama, now have I?” Eames continued, smiling now.
“No,” Arthur agreed, “but then you’ve been too busy helping- me…”
Eames chuckled softly and Arthur stared at him. “But the way you kept looking at each other during the introductions?”
Eames shrugged. “I’ve been talking about you.”
“You-,” Arthur stopped, then: “Wait, is that why Francois doesn’t like me? What on earth have you been saying?”
“Oh, Arthur,” Eames sighed. “You’ve just realised there’s something going on between us and your first thought is that I’ve been badmouthing you?”
Arthur could feel the exact moment his cheeks heated at the admission from Eames’ own lips.
“Oh god, I’m sorry,” he apologised, biting at the inside of his cheek, not sure what else he should say.
“It’s fine. And don’t worry about Francois. It’s not personal. His problem is with me.”
“I- um.” Arthur started then stopped. Eames waved a hand between them, as if to dismiss the moment.
“You’ve done most of the prep work for tomorrow, haven’t you? Do you have much still to do?” Eames asked, changing the subject with about as much subtlety as a train barrelling through Downtown Los Angeles.
Arthur frowned but took the offer and answered, stiltedly filling Eames in on what he’d achieved with his afternoon and what he still hoped to get done come his presentation to the Du Plessis’ the following morning. His mind was only half on the conversation and he was still trying to juggle that and the startling revelation that Eames thought there was ‘something’ going on between them when their meals arrived.
They lapsed into a silence that, whilst not uncomfortable, seemed full of expectation and Arthur found himself completely flummoxed at not having seen this coming. He should have, he realised, thinking back on the whirlwind of hours they’d spent together whilst in Cape Town. Even before this week, there’d always been the hint of something, but it had been so easily to just push thoughts of that nature aside, to play it as though it were just a game between them.
“Is this why you called me?” Arthur eventually asked. It would have been out of the blue except for the way Eames looked as though he’d been expecting Arthur to say something.
“Partly,” he admitted. “You are the best and only person I knew of who could help us out with this on such short notice.”
“The other part?” Arthur asked, watching Eames carefully.
“I knew you didn’t have a job. Hadn’t had one since Inception. I was worried you were going to follow Cobb into leaving the business.” He admitted.
Arthur frowned. “Why should that worry you?”
“Darling,” Eames answered as though it should be obvious.
Arthur ducked his head, smiling despite himself. “So you thought giving me a job would stop that from happening?”
“Were you thinking about leaving?” Eames asked.
Arthur shook his head at him. “I hate when you answer my questions with questions.”
Eames just smiled at him. “Well?”
“Fine. Yes. I was.” He said, looking away.
Eames reached out, folding his hand over Arthur’s a moment. “And then I called.”
Arthur swallowed heavily, feeling the gentle pressure of Eames’ hand curled around his own upon the table. He flicked his eyes up, catching Eames’ smile a moment before he pulled his hand back.
“And then you called,” he agreed, then laughed softly. “Not that you really gave me much choice in the matter.”
“The less time you had to think about it, the less chance you had to decline.” Eames said, leaning back in his seat and giving Arthur some space.
“And was my being sleep deprived part of your grand plan?”
“You have been a lot more obliging than I’m used to,” Eames answered, neither in agreement nor disagreement.
“It’s been nice,” Eames said then, “seeing you like this. Not so… put together.”
Arthur rolled his eyes, shifting in his seat. “I think I’m so far beyond embarrassed about the whole thing now that it’s not even registering anymore.”
“What’s there to be embarrassed about?” Eames asked, cocking his head. “It’s nice to know there’s an actual human being beneath the suits and pomade.”
Arthur laughed. “Yeah well, don’t get used to it.”
“I’m sure I can arrange something for our next job,” he said with a wink as Arthur shook his head fondly.
“You aren’t still thinking about quitting are you?” he asked.
“Not really,” Arthur shrugged. Eames looked surprised at the non-answer.
“What I don’t understand is why? After what we did, what we achieved! How could you want to give that all up?”
Arthur frowned at him. “You talk about it as if the whole thing went to plan. The entire job was a disaster from start to finish. I messed up with the Mark, Yusuf lied to us about the compound, Cobb betrayed m-us all and ended up getting our Mark sent to Limbo, we missed half our kicks and if it wasn’t for our tourists we probably wouldn’t have managed it at all.” He fisted his hands just thinking about the Inception job and Eames reached out, resting his own hands atop Arthur’s once more.
His own monumental failure aside, Cobb’s betrayal had been the biggest dent to his confidence. He’d trusted Cobb, and been used as a means to an end by him, as if everything he’d done for the man meant nothing, as if his very life was something so easily discarded. He’d been betrayed by teams before, of course, but he’d never been as invested in them as he had been in Cobb. He would never have believed that the worst betrayal would come from someone he was so close to.
“A job like that was never going to run smoothly, Arthur.” Eames said, squeezing until Arthur relaxed his own hold.
He smiled deprecatingly. “Says the man who threatened to quit on the first level.”
“And if we hadn’t been so heavily sedated, I’d have taken my chances with his security,” Eames confirmed. “You’re right, nothing went as planned, and Cobb screwed us all before we’d really even begun. But at the same time, what happened, happened. And we all came out of it relatively unscathed.”
“But with everything that went wrong-,” Arthur began in protest.
“- there was something that went right.” Eames finished. “You can’t plan for every eventuality, Arthur, not even if you wanted to. Sometimes you have to choose spontaneity over specificity.”
Arthur laughed then, hearing an echo of the words he’d used back when they’d still been in the planning stages of Inception.
“What was it like?” He asked softly. “That moment when it took hold? When he gave himself the idea?”
“It was beautiful,” Eames confessed. “And heartbreaking. It was perfect and terrible and terrifying. To know that we did that, we made somebody re-evaluate a lifetimes worth of memories and emotions and see what we wanted him to see in them. God.” He finished, breathless, shaking his head.
“I wish I’d been there to see it,” Arthur murmured.
“Me too.” Eames squeezed at his hands once more before pulling away.
“How do you come back to doing this?” He asked then, referring to the Extraction type jobs Eames had taken since then.
“There’s still a challenge to be had in Dreamshare,” Eames said. “Especially for a Forger. Nowhere near as exhilarating as our last job but I don’t suppose there’ll be much that can match it.”
“No,” Arthur agreed. “But aside from wanting to sleep for the next month first, I don’t think I’ll mind if my next job requires my kind of specificity.”
“You can plan and design until your heart is content and I’ll do all the fun stuff,” Eames laughed, looking relieved and talking as though they’d be working more jobs together after this. Perhaps even as a team and not just when one of them needed a favour from the other.
Arthur didn’t say anything, even as he considered the idea of working with Eames on a more regular basis. He already trusted the man, but then, he’d trusted Cobb too. And you needed trust if you wanted to share dreams. He caught Eames watching him, his lips curled and Arthur found himself smiling in return.
They didn’t linger long after they finished their meals, if only because Arthur looked as though he might actually try to fall asleep on the table despite the amount of coffee Eames had been plying him with throughout the day.
“Please tell me you’ll grab at least a couple hours of sleep?” Eames asked as they left the bistro and started on the fifteen minute walk back to their apartment.
Arthur smothered a yawn behind his hand and nodded. “I don’t think I have much of a choice,” he agreed, willing to admit that he’d about reached his limit. Eames laughed, brushing their shoulders together as they walked.
They were about halfway into their journey when a flash suddenly lit up the sky. They stopped where they were, looking up just as a BOOM! of thunder sounded and the heavens opened, drowning them in a sudden downpour of rain.
Arthur laughed aloud in shock as the refreshingly cold rain soaked swiftly through his clothing. Shrieks and laughter sounded from other pedestrians as they all ran for cover from the rain. Eames grabbed at his arm, dragging him beneath the awning of the nearest shop and squeezing in tightly beside him as the thunderstorm rumbled across the sky, clearing the muggy heat that had been lying oppressively over the city for the better part of the past fortnight.
Arthur was still laughing when Eames turned from the rain to look at him. His smile didn’t fade as Eames unabashedly ran his eyes over Arthur’s face. Arthur let him look his fill as he did the same: seeing the spark in Eames’ eyes; the flush of excitement reflected in his cheeks; the way his lips had parted as he breathed on a laugh; the faint hint of stubble coating his jaw; his skin wet with drops of rain.
Eames licked his lips then and Arthur only realised that he’d mirrored the gesture when Eames stepped impossibly closer, one of his arms sliding around his waist to hold him. It didn’t even occur to Arthur to stop it from happening, so caught up in the moment was he.
When Eames leant in, his mouth so near that every puff of breath tingled at Arthur’s lips, Arthur could have pulled away, or told him to stop. But he didn’t. And without even consciously thinking about it, he knew he didn’t want it to.
The kiss, when it happened, was softer than Arthur thought it would be; softer than it had any right to be in the middle of a thunderstorm, and yet so contradictory to it as to be utterly perfect.
He ran his hands up Eames’ chest, curling his arms around his neck as he pressed his mouth closer; letting Eames lead but at the same time making it known that he wasn’t an unwilling participant. Eames moaned appreciatively, his free hand coming up to cup at Arthur’s jaw, cradling his head as he tilted it a fraction before deepening the kiss.
Arthur shivered as Eames licked at his mouth, his lips parting readily at the touch. His fingers clenched in the collar of Eames’ shirt, and he felt the heated press of Eames’ arm curled around him, the stroke of his palm to Arthur’s face, holding him, directing him. The kiss was less sweet now, more messy and eager and desperate as they breathed together, rain bouncing up at their heels, lightening flashing and thunder roaring and them ignorant to all but each other.
The storm lasted only minutes, just a quick downpour to clear the air. And as it eased, so to did their kiss, with Arthur slowing then pulling away from it. They were breathing heavily as they parted, but Eames was smiling widely and it was hard not to match his expression. Arthur leant in, burying his head against Eames’ neck as he laughed breathlessly. Eames turned his own head, pressing a light kiss to the lobe of Arthur’s ear, before sucking it into his mouth and causing Arthur to shiver, his fingers clenching at Eames’ shirt.
“You’re taking advantage of me, Mr Eames,” Arthur laughed, lifting his head enough to speak into Eames’ ear. He felt Eames’ laughter rumble up through his chest and he smiled a moment before loosening his hold enough to put an inch of space between them.
Eames leant in again and Arthur let him steal a few chaste kisses before pulling back once more. He lifted a hand to Eames’ face, stilling him. Hating to stop him but knowing he had to.
“I don’t want to ruin this, but we can’t do this now,” Arthur said softly, his eyes flickering between Eames’ own. “Not whilst we’re on a job at least.”
Eames eyed him carefully, “Not now.” He repeated, his hold loosening and Arthur unconsciously tightened his own.
“But not never,” he said, not wanting Eames to let go with the wrong impression.
Eames smiled gently. “But not never,” he agreed, leaning in to chance one more kiss. Arthur allowed it, moaning lightly as Eames let the kiss linger then merge into one more and then one more again.
They parted, eventually, rain wet and smiling, and when Eames took Arthur’s hand this time, Arthur let him.
- - -
The presentation the next morning went about as well as Arthur expected it to; with Francois looking as though he’d very much like to disagree with everything Arthur said, but with Zama and Eames teaming up to overrule him before he could get a word in either way.
He’d gone to bed just before midnight and even after forcing himself back up at six this morning, he still felt a mile better for what sleep he’d managed to catch. He suspected most of his good mood was as a result of what happened with Eames the previous evening.
He’d been the first one up that morning and had wheeled the whiteboard out of the office and into the lounge, setting it up with the two main options he was presenting to the team (the Mark’s office, and the Unknown Location), and he was just setting out the folders with the information he’d managed to gain on all three locations when the du Plessis’ came into the room.
Eames came in from the front door not long afterwards and Arthur only briefly wondered when he’d left before he caught sight of the tray of coffees he was carrying. He smiled thankfully at him upon receiving his own and Eames offered him a soft smile in return.
They didn’t linger however and Arthur soon launched himself into his presentation, offering up his opinions as to why he thought option three (the Mark’s office at work) would be their best, with four a close contender if only to keep all their bases covered.
The first two options (the home and the gambling den) he briefly mentioned and offered them the folders he’d compiled on them but mentioned they wouldn’t be of much use unless Zama wished to incorporate them into an edited design for option four.
“So either way, you think it’ll be the workplace?” Zama surmised, flicking through the significantly larger folder of specs and photos Arthur had compiled for the Mark’s container office.
He nodded. “There wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that options one or two would be better contenders, although-,” he nodded in deference to Eames, “-we weren’t able to get a look into the gambling den so can’t officially rule that one out.”
“Not much use that,” Francois muttered. Zama elbowed him gently.
“No,” Arthur agreed, “but after what happened to your last Point Man you can hardly have expected any differently. That’s why I’ve provided you the forth option as well.”
“This is great work,” Zama said once he’d finished. “Using the office in a one level dream should makes things significantly easier as well, providing the Mark doesn’t need to leave the dockyard. I can’t believe you’ve managed all this in such a short space of time, Arthur.”
“Eames was a great deal of help in sorting through Jamieson’s notes,” he admitted.
Zama smiled knowingly at him and Arthur half-frowned at the look as she asked: “How confident are you about the workplace?”
“Very.” Arthur answered with confidence.
“And you, Eames?” She said, turning to him with a bright smile, looking to gauge his reaction.
“I’m with Arthur on this one.” He agreed. “I liked the gambling den but after checking out all the options, it seems more likely that, even if he doesn’t keep any incriminating evidence at work, his mind would still be ready and willing to reveal his secrets whilst at his workplace.”
“Do you think you can do it with just one level of the dream?” She pressed.
“I can certainly give it a go.” He said, easing forward in his chair. “There’s no reason to think one level won’t be enough. Everything is as straightforward as it needs to be with this guy. I’ll have a folder with me in the dream, once we’re in his office I’ll have him believe it was given to me by whoever’s threatened me, his mind should immediately fill it with the information we need.”
Zama nodded, pleased. “Franc?” she asked, turning to her husband. Arthur watched as Francois’ expression softened minutely as he looked to his wife.
“Option three. We’ll go with Arthur’s plan,” he agreed, surprising Arthur.
“Thank you very much, Arthur,” Zama enthused then, standing and moving over to shake his hand. “We’ll transfer you your share after the job’s completed tomorrow.”
“Thank you,” he returned.
“I hope next time we’ll actually get to work together,” she smiled at him before shooting one of her looks towards Eames. Arthur half-smiled back.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go and add all this into my designs.” She spared him one last look before moving towards the staircase that would take her up to the first level bedrooms.
Arthur started packing up what wasn’t needed, and was just handing over a small stack of folders to Eames when Francois came up to him and offered him his hand. Arthur hid his surprise as he took it, shaking once.
“Your help is very much appreciated,” Francois said, gruffly. Arthur inclined his head, catching Eames’ eye over Francois’ shoulder. “Leave anything to be destroyed at the door and we’ll see it’s done.”
Finished, he turned and headed towards the kitchen where he’d set up his lab for making the compound.
“I’m impressed,” Eames said, following Arthur into the office, “Man’s never shaken my hand and I’ve worked with him a few times now.”
“Are you sure he doesn’t think you’re into his wife?” Arthur asked, offering him a cheeky smile.
Eames snorted. “Positive.” He answered, eyes fixed on Arthur.
He raised an eyebrow but Eames just smiled and moved to place the folders on the desk. He paused in putting them down, seeing Arthur’s two small travel bags sitting at the foot of the desk.
“Leaving so soon?” He asked nonchalantly, turning to him.
Arthur nodded, shifting. “My job’s done.”
“We’re not performing the Extraction until tomorrow,” Eames began. Arthur heard the question in his words and shook his head.
“And you’ll need the rest of today to prepare,” he pointed out.
“I’ve prepared enough,” Eames insisted. “I’ve got this.”
“The last thing you need is a distraction.” Arthur said, even as he let Eames step in close enough to touch.
Eames eyed him, carefully. “I’ll be done in two days time.” He said then, not wanting to push.
Arthur almost wanted to smile. “You know I can’t stay,” he said, feeling his heartbeat speed up at the frown that furrowed at Eames’ brow a moment before he smoothed his expression out once more.
“I understand,” he said, stepping back.
Arthur reached out, grabbing at Eames’ wrist and stilling him. “I meant that I can’t stay here.” He said, referring to the apartment. “I don’t have anywhere else I need to be. I may be inclined to hang around Cape Town for a few more days. Catch up on some sleep, that sort of thing.”
Eames’ smile was slow. He stepped in again. “Sounds nice,” he agreed, cupping at Arthur’s face. “Might be nicer with some company?”
Arthur smiled then. “I’m sure I could make myself available in a few days time.”
Eames was still smiling as he leant in to kiss him.
Arthur was still smiling as he let him.