and when the fires came
the smell of cinders and rain
perfumed almost everything
we laughed and laughed and laughed
(Bat for lashes - Daniel)
”This is the last time,” Arthur says like he actually means it while packing his bag. Eames watches him, eyes and face blank, the glow of the lamp turning everything warm and yellow. The constant hum of Mombasa night is seeping through the open window behind the drawn curtains, and Eames is getting a little more than tired of this.
“You always say that,” he mutters rather bitterly in a barely audible voice but it doesn’t seem to reach Arthur’s ears. Or then it does but the words don’t make any difference. No matter what Eames says, Arthur will always run and come back for more and run again and claim that it’s the last time he gives in to the temptation.
Arthur straightens his shirt and jacket and steps to the bathroom to check if he’s left anything. Eames stays seated in the kitchen chair with his tea mug and stares at Arthur’s duffel bag until its owner returns and proceeds to leave for good.
“I’ll contact you if I need a forger.” Once again there’s professional stiffness in the way Arthur moves and talks, and Eames hates it from the bottom of his heart.
“Wait,” he says and slides off the stool to stop him; one of the men he has loved during his years but the only man he has burnt this much for. He smoothes the wrinkles in Arthur’s collar and leans in to kiss him without the feeling, without the emotion he knows he cannot show.
“Watch me before you go,” he whispers against Arthur’s skin. “Just watch me for a moment.”
If there is an “I love you” lying in the undertones, they ignore it.
Arthur cards his fingers through Eames’ hair and watches him with soft, unreadable eyes in the warm light, the burn of the golden yellow on Eames’ cheekbones and jaw, the exhausted, sharp colour of wet concrete in his eyes. There are new wrinkles on Arthur’s forehead and dark shades under his eyes. They are both growing old. Eames wishes they could do it together.
“Goodbye, Mr Eames,” Arthur says and tries to believe he means it.
“Goodbye, Arthur,” Eames says and means it.
Eames sells his apartment and dumps his belongings to storage. He visits Yusuf for the hell of it and scratches the cat behind her ears for two hours. He lets out a word that he’s not accepting new jobs for the next month.
Then he flees.
He does city-hopping for three weeks, from Nagasaki to Perth, from Frankfurt to Chicago. He knows that Arthur is tracking his moves to keep his files updated, and forges himself a new passport before he chucks his phone to a channel and boards a plane in Brussels. It will buy him some time.
Helsinki is beautiful in summertime and Eames enjoys it to the bone. He wanders around the city, smaller than most of the capitals he has visited, watches people and eats shitloads of strawberries he buys from the market square. He takes commuter trains to Kerava and back for one day just to spend time and money and flirts with a different girl in every train. With one of them he has a nice, long chat about Benedict Cumberbatch, and he’s almost sorry when the girl gets off the train.
In the midsummer’s eve he goes to watch the bonfires in Seurasaari, writes Arthur’s name on an envelope and records a message to the voicemail of his emergency phone. Then he leaves everything behind, books a room from the hotel across the street, puts scraps of paper, letters, under the sofa and lies down on the bed.
He lights up a cigarette and thinks about Arthur, his long, graceful hands and his voice saying “this is the last time”. He thinks about the job in Kiel when they ran away in a sports car he stole from the street, about Arthur with a Glock in his hand and the bottle of pills in Eames’ pocket which he had decided to down if he couldn’t get Arthur to stay.
Arthur stayed then, but never after that.
He remembers Arthur’s eyes watching him in Mombasa, golden brown and soft and unreadable.
When sleep starts to crawl up his spine, Eames closes his eyes, lets his still-burning cigarette drop to the floor and roll under the couch. He drifts to sleep with a smell of smoke and fire, and dreams naturally for the first time in years.
Arthur is a professional when it comes to tracking down people. Everybody knows that he’s keeping tabs on his teammates to know where they are, in case he needs them for a job. Nobody knows that he follows their tracks even when he doesn’t need to.
After leaving Mombasa Arthur has followed Eames’ footprints from Nagasaki to Brussels just for a habit. He doesn’t allow himself to think that maybe – maybe there is something else behind his job-related curiosity, and he most definetely doesn’t let himself to think that he might be just a little worried of Eames.
However after Eames disappears in Brussels, Arthur starts to get a little nervous. Usually he has always known exactly where the forger is and Eames has always wanted Arthur to find him. Now his resources are empty-handed and the trackings in Eames’ phones and passports don’t show anything.
He suppresses panic until Eames has been missing for a week. Then he scrolls down his contact list to D and hits the number that only he knows. It’s Eames’ emergency number, under his first name. Usually he keeps the phone always with him and it’s always reachable – except now.
It goes directly to the voicemail. Arthur almost hangs up, but then he hears Eames’ deep voice and can’t stop listening.
“Hullo darling,” it says. “You’re probably looking for me by now.”
You don’t even know, Arthur thinks, and keeps listening.
“I’m in Helsinki. It’s midsummer’s eve and the city is very quiet. You would have liked the bonfires.”
Arthur pulls his laptop over and starts to look for the next flight from Paris to Helsinki-Vantaa aeroport without stopping to think how freshly recorded the message is.
“Listen, Arthur. I switched off the phone so you can hear this message, sooner or later. My other phone is in the bottom of a channel in Brussels. I forged a new passport so you couldn’t track me. I didn’t want you to find me before it was the right time.”
Eames’ message is giving him a bad, unpleasant feeling. Arthur books a flight which leaves in two hours and pulls his duffel bag from the closet. His laptop gives a little ping to inform that he’s got a new email.
“If you wonder why I did all this, it’s for you.”
He opens the email only because it’s title is ‘about eames’ and he’s starting to feel slightly nauseous. It’s from a Finnish journalist he has known for years; one of his resources in the Nordic countries.
Arthur, he reads, I’ve got some really bad news. There was a fire in a hotel in Helsinki tonight about two hours ago, starting from a cigarette. There was one victim, who died of carbon monoxine before the firefighters got there and stopped the fire. The victim is – according to his passport – British. The name in the passport was Frank Kingsley.
It’s one of Eames’ many identities. The voice in the answering machine has been quiet for some time, but right after Arthur has read the email, Eames’ voice says in his ear, serious and tired and distant like underwater,
“Arthur, I’m helping you to keep your promise. It was the last time. Goodbye.”
The machine beeps to inform that the message has ended. Arthur throws down his phone and runs to the bathroom, where he kneels and throws up immediately.
Eames is dead. Eames is dead.
Wait, says Eames in his head. Watch me before you go. Just watch me for a moment. I love you.
He barely makes it to the flight, but does anyway.
There is an envelope among Eames’ things in the hotel room where he lived for a week before the fire. It contains all of his fake passports to burn and his last will. He has named Arthur as the caretaker of his belongings, so Arthur does everything that is requested in the paper: he sells Eames’ flats in Barcelona, Berlin and New Orleans and splits his fortune as he wanted, most of it going to his sister. It doesn’t amuse him that Eames has given all of his vintage shirts to Arthur who is extremely too small for them, but he knows he will keep them anyway.
They cremate Eames four days later in Dover and whisk the ashes to the wind above the English Channel. Only Arthur, Yusuf, Ariadne and Eames’ little sister, Shane, are present – Cobb can’t make it because of his children and there is nobody else that Arthur knew to be close with Eames. It’s not raining but not sunny either, and through Ariadne’s occassional sobs Arthur hears the waves and the wind and sees the concrete-grey sky and thinks I’m so in love with you that sometimes it burns, the words he never said out loud. He whispered them against Eames’ skin on their last night together when he was absolutely sure that the older man was asleep. Now he wishes nothing more than that he said them when Eames was awake.
Arthur keeps some of the cinder and holds Eames’ sister for a long time, maybe because he is the only one who knew Eames as well as her and understands the crushing grief. Or maybe because she has Eames’ eyes and Arthur can’t stand to see the loss in them when they only remind him of the fact that it’s all his fault. The guilt feels a little lesser when he doesn’t have to face it, so he lets her press a cold cheek against his neck and shiver like she has a fever. Afterwards he is not sure if it’s actually him who was shivering.
Later all four of them sit in Shane’s hotel room and there is lots of scotch and a long silence. She doesn’t blame Arthur for her brother’s death even though he is sure she knows everything about them, and it really feels worse than if she did. He crushes ice cubes in his mouth and swallows them pretending that it’s glass sliding and tearing his throat on its way down, and thinks that he fucking deserves it.
Arthur dreams of Eames burning. Next morning he flees.
Arthur wakes up in Berlin.
He walks Kurfürstendamm from one end to the other and when wanders around Tiergarten and Holocaust Mahnmal for hours, trying to get himself lost in the almost-but-not-quite maze of the monument. From a bridge the Spree looks deep and blueish grey and painfully cheerful and summery. He calls Cobb who doesn’t pick up, so he leaves a short message to assure he’s alive and then ends up in a faceless cocktail bar in Potsdamer Platz, filled with university students and hipsters. Germans are happy and friendly and he doesn’t fit in the slightest.
Arthur dreams of fever and fires, wakes up in Berlin, and Eames is dead.
Arthur wakes up in Kyoto.
He buys a takeaway lunch of sushi and udon from Sun Plaza market on Marumachi-dori and walks around Higashiyama for hours. He buys a stupid keychain amulette from Sanjusangendo temple and throws it into the knee-deep, green-blue and calming Kamogawa next morning. Saito calls him but has no time to meet up. He doesn’t mind. Japanese are too kind and respectful for his taste even though previously he has felt home with them.
Arthur dreams of fever and rain, wakes up in Kyoto, and Eames is still dead.
Three months later Arthur wakes up in Helsinki.
It’s very late September turning into October and everywhere there are red leaves and autumn jackets. He walks up Mannerheimintie and then back down on the other side and strolls around in jugend Eira district, trying to admire the architecture but failing extremely. He buys an overpriced latte from the coffee house in the main railway station and sits on the massive stairs of Senate Square. Finns are quiet but helpful and keep to themselves. They all seem to be solitary even when accompanied, and he fits in perfectly.
Arthur dreams of fever and cinders, wakes up in the same hotel that burnt in Helsinki, and Eames is still dead. The sea is the deep and familiar colour of concrete after rain, and when he stands on the pier Arthur knows that slowly, slowly he is learning to live with the fever.