"We'll have to pose as two couples to get into the retreat," Ariadne announces, utterly unbothered by the idea.
Cobb squints, considering.
Arthur, damn him, immediately seizes the suggestion.
"She's right. It's the only way to get close to Lincoln and his girlfriend. I'll reserve us two rooms. Dom, you and I can pair up, and Ari and Eames, you two can pretend to be newlyweds."
Eames feels his mouth fall open in genuine shock at this absurd suggestion. What's Arthur playing at?
Thankfully, Cobb seems just as horrified by the suggestion.
"Arthur, don't you think it would be better to pair up you and Eames and me and Ariadne?"
Arthur shoots Cobb a look of cool appraisal, one eyebrow raised. Eames doesn't envy him. Arthur's stern gaze is truly withering.
"And why would that be, Dom?" he asks, giving away nothing.
"Well ... er ... because you both ... you know ... you both are ... you like men," Dom sputters out, clearly sweating bullets, terrified of saying something that will offend.
"So what if we do?" Arthur counters. "It's not as if we'll be actually dating. You understand that, right? Maybe we should pair you up with Eames. Do you doubt he's a good enough actor to convince a bunch of other couples that he's madly in love with you?"
Cobb glances at Eames, helpless. Despite the fact that Eames desperately does not want to spend a week pretending to be Cobb's boyfriend, he also knows he'll be insulted if Cobb doubts his ability to convincingly pull off such a falsehood. He stares back with a challenge in his eyes, daring Cobb to contradict Arthur.
"Look," Ariadne interjects, clearly realizing that they're at an impasse. "Would it be so horrible, Arthur, if you had to pretend to tolerate Eames for a few days?"
"I tolerate Eames just fine," Arthur responds archly. "I just resent the implication that because I'm gay, it'll somehow be easier to pretend to have a relationship with a male co-worker than a female one. We're professionals. We pretend to be things we're not every day. Or have you already forgotten the six weeks you and I spent pretending to be siblings just last year?"
"Fine, fine, you're right. If you want to pair with me and Dom with Eames, that's fine."
Eames feels as if the floor has gone out from under him. It was bad enough his having been paired with Ariadne and not Arthur at the start, but now he's going to have to spend day and night at Cobb's side. He's this close to asking Arthur for a private word and begging him to put a stop to this foolhardy plan.
And then, suddenly, Arthur makes a big show of sighing and opening his palms in a placating gesture.
"You know what, it doesn't matter," he says. "If you and Dom are more comfortable pretending to be together than with either of us, then that's OK. I'm overreacting. We should do whatever will be most-convincing for Lincoln."
Cobb doesn't even attempt to hide his relief.
"As long as it's OK with Eames," Ari adds, bless her.
Eames shrugs magnanimously.
"Makes no difference to me, luv."
"OK then it's settled," Dom rushes to say. "Arthur, book the rooms."
Later that night, when Arthur breaks into his hotel room after supper, Eames is waiting on a barstool in the sitting area, arms crossed, ignoring the whiskey he's been nursing for far too long.
"What was all that about then?" he asks, before Arthur's even tossed his coat across the arm of the sofa.
Arthur lingers a few feet away, not coming in for his customary kiss hello when they're in private.
"I had to make it seem like we weren't just itching to pair up with each other," Arthur says, matter-of-fact. "It had to be convincing that we're doing this because they want it, not us."
Eames scowls at him, not quite ready to let it go. He knows Arthur's telling the truth, but he still didn't like the way it had made him feel, and he's not above indulging his bruised feelings for a bit longer.
"You almost revived my jealousy of Cobb, I'll have you know, " he says, sourly.
Arthur rolls his eyes, undaunted.
"That was completely absurd at the time and is frankly ludicrous at this point."
"Says the man who spent a year following Cobb to the ends of the earth and left me on my lonesome."
"Please don't start with that again."
"You started it. Both then and now."
Arthur sighs and approaches Eames as if he's a wounded animal. Eames would feel ashamed for being so infantile about this, but he can't seem to help himself.
"Look babe," Arthur says, reaching out and stroking the curl of Eames' ear. "Now we get to spend a week sharing a hotel room without hiding it from anyone. We can hold hands in public, even kiss a little maybe, and no one will think anything of it. It will be like having a vacation while we're working, all on the client's dime."
"I think my character will be very into PDA. And he'll also be an early to bed sort, necessitating plenty of time alone in our room."
Arthur grins boyishly.
"Fine by me. Whatever you want," he says, finally leaning in brush his lips against Eames'.
They fly separately to New York. Eames goes through customs, changes clothes in the loo, and prepares to meet Arthur in character for the job.
The chances that anyone is tracking them are nil, but if they're doing any undercover work, Arthur insists that the team always arrive at their destination in character, just in case something goes pear shaped on the job and anyone tries to track them backward. It wouldn't do to have the authorities realize that they'd materialized out of nowhere in the hotel's car park.
Of course, it's all well and good for Arthur to demand such a thing, when he rarely does much character work himself and is usually confined to whatever hotel suite or inexpensive property they're holing up in to prepare for the job. But Eames has learned from long experience that it's usually better to trust Arthur's instincts, even when they're a pain in the arse.
All of Eames' inner whinging about the logistics of changing out of a three-piece suit and into jeans and a fisherman's sweater in a tiny airport toilet stall are forgotten the moment he sees Arthur striding toward him with a friendly smile, flaunting his dimples. He's wearing his black, thick-rimmed glasses, the ones that always make Eames feel like his insides are melting. And, of all things, a maroon baseball cap. Eames has never once seen Arthur in such a thing. Nor in the rugby shirt advertising some Midwestern university Eames vaguely remembers hearing something or other about once upon a time.
If someone had told him yesterday that he'd go weak at the knees at the site of Arthur dressed as some kind of thirtysomething fraternity brother, Eames would have laughed straight in that person's face. But here he is, just barely resisting pressing Arthur against the nearest wall and rubbing off against him like a lovesick teenager.
Arthur merely smirks like he somehow knew the sort of effect his disguise would have on Eames. Then he leans in and kisses Eames gently on the cheek, takes his hand, and proceeds toward the security line, easy as you please.
On the plane Arthur--currently doing business under the name Josh Crisp--pulls out some sort of portable gaming device and proceeds to kill zombies for six hours straight. He's ace at it so far as Eames can tell, although when he picked up the skills is anyone's guess. Eames supposes Arthur must find some way to occupy his time during the weeks they spend apart.
Eames is rather starting to tire of their carefully maintained distances, if he's being honest. He'd prefer to risk someone finding out about them and be allowed to spend more time together. But Arthur is fanatical about safety and Eames is a bit frightened to bring it up, because it could lead to a fantastic row. Not that he thinks they'd split up over it, but he's an absolute coward when it comes to fighting with Arthur.
He abandons this line of thought when they arrive in Vancouver, however. No use wasting their night in the city without Ariadne and Cobb. Not when what he'd be pouting about in the first place would be wanting a chance for more nights like this to be together as a couple.
The moment they arrive at their posh hotel room, Eames can't help from kissing Arthur absolutely stupid. He's just so bloody inexplicably sexy in this character. But Arthur insists they change and go out for supper, promising Eames he'll get everything he wants later in the evening.
They go out for some utterly fabulous mussels followed by roasted duckling. Ordinarily Arthur would order for both of them in his lovely schoolboy French. But in character as Josh, he defers to the selections of Eames' character, Martin, who dropped out of culinary school before deciding to become a librarian.
They get just a bit pissed on two bottles of very nice wine and walk hand-in-hand through the city streets, enjoying the superior view and the crisp night air. Back at the hotel, they stop in the bar for one last beer and Eames leans over and whispers in Arthur's ear, asking what Josh likes in bed. Arthur shivers in anticipation of the game, downs his half of the bottle in three easy swallows and rushes Eames toward the elevator.
It turns out that Josh wants to 69 on the floor right in front of the panoramic window looking out over the harbor. He switches halfway through to licking Eames' arse instead of sucking his prick. Not that Eames is going to complain about such a thing. Even Arthur doesn't complain when Eames comes spectacularly all over his chest. He just wipes himself off with a towel and collapses in bed, too drunk and happy to be fastidious.
The next day they depart for the ski lodge bright and early, because Arthur is never tardy for anything, even when he's terrifically hungover, to the point where he lets Eames drive their hire car without a word of protest.
Arthur has upgraded their room on the sly, so that they're several floors away from Cobb and Ariadne, rather than next door as had been initially planned. It wouldn't do to have he and Arthur being overheard, because Eames plans on having as much sex as is humanly possible during this little working vacation of theirs.
They've got group orientation to start, and then a day of carefully divided up activities where he and Arthur and Cobb and Ariadne take turns spying on the mark, Jeremy Lincoln, and his girlfriend, Chelsea. Ariadne and Cobb have already accomplished an early morning yoga-slash-information gathering session. What Eames wouldn't give to watch Cobb fall on his face attempting some complicated pose.
Since Arthur, who Eames had been certain knew how to do everything under the sun to the point of perfection, somehow doesn't know how to ski, he's taking lessons with the Lincoln. Eames walks Arthur to the class meeting point, kissing him goodbye publicly, careful to demonstrate that he's not any kind of threat when he strikes up a conversation with Chelsea , manipulating her into suggesting that they hit the slopes together while their better halves tackle the bunny slope.
The whole team shares a table at lunch, pretending to have just met. Then Cobb and Ariadne take some sort of nature drawing course in the lodge. Eames had really wanted that portion assignment. But instead he and Arthur are in the couple's therapy group, where they try to stay as quiet as possible and hope for Lincoln or Chelsea to share something useful.
The first night Dominic lets them get away with going straight to their suite after group, ordering room service and staying in all night. But the second evening he demands a team meeting. Eames and Arthur run around making things presentable--moving one set of pillows to the end of the bed so they appear to be sleeping head-to-foot, hiding the lube deep in the bottom of Arthur's suitcase, just in case.
Eames answers the door in an honest-to-God pair of plaid pyjamas, trying to look as innocent and asexual as possible . Arthur hasn't changed out of his clothes from the day, but he does take off the maroon cap he's been wearing again and let his hair curl freely.
"Your room is sick!" Ari exclaims. "How is it so much nicer than ours?"
"We got upgraded at check-in," Arthur answers, bored-sounding. "Anyway, it's not exactly ideal. We do have only one bed," he gestures at the fake sleeping tableau they created.
Cobb squints at it and shakes his head, as if he can't understand how anyone could tolerate sleeping the wrong direction.
They discuss ideas to isolate the mark and put him under. Doing it during a massage at the spa would be ideal, but they'll need to separate Lincoln and Chelsea and that could prove difficult. Perhaps one of the four of them could woo her away to some other activity, but that would mean that person wouldn't be available to go under and the job is a bit short on personnel as it is. They could sedate her as well, and just leave her to sleep in the massage room while they work, but that's a risk, too, without leaving someone topside to watch over her in case she wakes up.
Three days pass in more-or-less the same fashion, and Eames grows increasingly annoyed at the amount of hectic running around they do each evening before meeting with the team. Tonight, he realizes that they have failed to notice some tell-tale stains left on the sheets during their snatched moments between lunch and group therapy, and now it's too late to request clean ones. He covers the bed with a mountain of spare blankets and hope no one finds it odd.
Cobb complains, as he does increasingly loudly every night, about all the extra space Arthur and Eames have compared to his room with Ariadne. He essentially accuses Eames of underhandedly manipulating the upgrade, implying he's too much of a prima dona to make due with anything less than luxury, despite knowing full well that that's a lie. And he goes out of his way to note that he knows it wasn't Arthur (although in actuality it was), because Arthur never demanded luxury all the times that the two of them had shared a room, and a couple times even a bed, while Cobb was on the run. Eames is livid.
This is probably why the next day when their luck runs out in group and the counselor singles he and Arthur out for sharing time, Eames blurts out that he wishes they would stop hiding their relationship at work. Arthur looks shocked, well and truly.
It's not a total disaster. Their cover story does include them working for the same law firm, Martin in the library and Josh as an attorney, so it's not as if Eames has blown that wide open or anything. But it's still much too close to the truth for comfort and he is certain that Arthur is freaking out.
"Tell us more about the situation," the counselor asks.
"Er … well what he means is," Arthur interrupts, trying to salvage things.
"Please allow Martin to speak. You'll have your turn next, Josh," she counselor says.
"It's just that, well, we've been dating for more than year now," Eames stammers out in character. The truth is that it's been much longer, but he has enough of his wits about him to stick to the story they'd agreed upon from here on out. "And at first we decided to keep it close to the vest, which made sense. Josh could have been perceived as having crossed a line inviting out someone beneath his pay grade and all that. And we didn't know if it would be serious or not, of course. But, well, I'm sick of pretending. Everyone always asks me on Fridays if I've got any hot dates at the weekend, and on Mondays they ask if I met anyone special. It's getting difficult keeping up with all the lies, to tell the truth."
"And how does that make you feel, Martin?" the counselor prompts.
"Fucking awful," Eames replies. "Sorry. Sorry. I didn't mean to curse. It's only, it makes me feel a bit like, maybe Josh wants to be able to walk away cleanly without anyone being the wiser and that scares me and hurts my feelings."
This is, of course, 100 percent truth. He knows that Arthur loves him. He does. But some part of him is afraid that Arthur wants to hide their relationship because it will make it easier to carry on without judgement from others if it ends. He can see out of the corner of his eye that Arthur is looking utterly livid as he waits his turn to speak and Eames braces himself for the onslaught.
"Are you finished?" the counselor asks.
"Josh how would you respond to this," she continues.
Arthur surprises Eames by pausing to gather his thoughts.
"I … I understand that Martin feels emotional about this," he says, cool as a bloody cucumber. "But I think he's really failing to grasp the risk that it poses … to our careers. You don't understand the kind of people we work with, ma'am. It isn't … prudent for them to know about us."
"Are you saying that you think there would be retribution due to your sexuality?" the counselor asks.
"Yes," Arthur responds. Of course, he's saying nothing of the sort. But Eames understands perfectly the coded language he's using. It's the same thing he always says--being public, or even semi-public would put them in danger of having their enemies use one to get to the other. Frankly Eames is so exhausted with all the pretending and the time apart that he is more than willing to take the risk.
"Well I guess the question that raises is why would you want to work for such a place that won't accept who you are?"
"It has its unique benefits," Arthur responds tersely.
"Such as?" the counselor asks. She's tenacious, Eames will give her that.
"Why don't you ask Martin," Arthur spits out.
"It's a very exciting and cutting-edge, uh, firm that's doing some very interesting … casework. I find my own research tremendously rewarding. And while I acknowledge that there may be some small degree of risk, I disagree with Josh that it is so very great."
Arthur interjects and this time the counselor allows him to do so.
"You don't have the same job I do. You can't possibly understand. You haven't been with the firm nearly as long as I have, either. It's not my own job I'm afraid for, Martin, it's yours. Don't you see?"
Eames understands that Arthur is referring to his military past here and to the likelihood that he knows things people would come after one of them to find out.
"I'm sure you're right, Josh. I don't doubt you. My point is that I. Do. Not. Care. Any. Longer. What is the point of your … protecting me when I'm living a lie and unhappy about it?"
"You're unhappy," Arthur asks, and now his voice is small and full of doubt.
"I'm very, very happy when we're together. I'm just exhausted by the charade and the time apart it requires," Eames replies, reaching out to put his hand on Arthur's knee.
The counselor looks satisfied and turns her gaze on another unwitting couple. The government ought to employ her in interrogations, Eames thinks. He can't quite believe he let it all out like that.
His brain is incapable of focusing for the rest of the session. He can only think about how cross Arthur might be when they're alone afterward.
What he isn't prepared for, is Arthur being sad. It's like a punch straight to his stomach. He feels awful.
Arthur quietly explains that after the row, they should be noticed spending the evening apart and arranges to meet with Ariadne and Cobb in their room, leaving Eames to his own devices.
He's moping about in the lodge drinking a hot cocoa that's at least half full of rum when Chelsea pops up at his elbow unexpectedly. She offers sympathy and expresses some similar frustration with Lincoln and invites Eames to join her for a wine tasting class the next day before lunch.
Eames is so eager to share the news of this bit of good fortune that he almost forgets to act contrite when Arthur returns to the room. But when he hears the door open, that sinking feeling returns and it worsens when he see's Arthur's face.
"Look, darling, I'm so sorry. I know I was careless. I know it was stupidly risky to even slightly allude to our real lives in group today. I won't ever let it happen again. Please forgive me."
"I don't care about that," Arthur replies, dejected. "I mean, I did at first. But, whatever, it really doesn't matter. What I care about, what I fucking care about very much, is that apparently you're unhappy in our relationship, have been for quite some time, and I never realized."
"No! No it's not like that. It's only that I wish we could spend more time together … "
Arthur interrupts him.
"Look, I just. We need to talk about this more. I recognize that now. But … just let me sleep on it tonight. I can't deal with this anymore today. Please?"
Eames feels broken and empty inside as he curls up under the quilted duvet. But at least Arthur doesn't turn his back, instead wrapping an arm around Eames' waist and planting a tiny kiss on Eames' shoulder.
"We'll work it out, babe," he says. "I just need to … process a bit."
Eames tells him about the wine tasting first thing the next morning and it's the break they needed--both in how to get Lincoln alone for the job and in how to get he and Arthur on footing that Eames knows how to navigate.
Eames gets Chelsea good and pissed, sneaking extra pours into her glass at every opportunity. He has a sleeping pill to slip her, but he doesn't want to use it unless he absolutely has to, since there won't be anyone to look in on her while they're doing the job. Thankfully, it's not needed. She sways down the hallway on his arm and announces that she's in need of a good, long nap.
As soon as Chelsea is tucked away in her and Lincoln's room, Eames hurries down to the lodge's small first aid station, where Arthur has already enticed Lincoln to accompany him after "turning his ankle" walking back from their first day attempting to ski some blues.
Cobb has paid off the medical technician to make himself scarce for a half an hour or so and Ariadne, who had already been sitting in the waiting room when Arthur and Lincoln arrived, has stealthily slipped some sedative into Lincoln's plastic bottle of water.
The moment Lincoln is out, they carry him into an exam room and and set up the PASIV, quick as can be.
The job is easy, but not without surprises. Eames forges Chelsea and Cobb pretends to be an employee of the lodge's parent company, trying to sign them up for some kind of membership program .
Lincoln agrees to everything Cobb asks him, but seems distracted. As Cobb "files the paperwork" in the discreet safe in the corner of his office, the safe that hopefully contains the information the team needs to complete the job, Lincoln strikes up a conversation with Chelsea, telling her that the fighting couple at group the day before had really opened his eyes to the ways he'd been being insensitive to her.
"It's like, I understand why Josh wants to protect Martin, but I think he's being kind of an asshole and I don't want it to go that long and fester like that if you're upset with me, cupcake. Promise me you won't let it"
It hurts to hear that this bloke apparently thinks his relationship with Chelsea is healthier than Eames' with Arthur. It shouldn't matter, but it stings all the same.
But, of course, the real harm is the look on Cobb's face as he turns back toward his desk, clearly having heard every word, his great bloody big brain churning it all over and figuring out what's been right under his nose this whole time.
Cobb doesn't say anything when they wake up, leaving Arthur and Ariadne behind with Lincoln, who had "fainted" in the heat of the waiting room. But Eames is almost certain that he's put two and two together at this point.
By the time Arthur meets him at lunch an hour later, Eames is very nearly in a panic about telling Arthur what's transpired. He steers Arthur to an empty table in the corner near the kitchen, where it's unlikely they will be overheard and blurts out, "I think Cobb knows."
"Knows what?" Arthur asks, oblivious.
Eames looks at him pointedly.
"About us. I didn't do or say anything, I swear, but Lincoln brought up our fight during group while we were under and I could see Cobb figuring it out, see the wheels in his head turning."
Arthur sits there thinking for a long while. And then … he shrugs.
You could knock Eames over with a feather right now. You really could.
"You don't … you don't care?"
"If being this secretive is hurting you so much, then it's clearly not the answer. I know you've said all those things before, but somehow I never really heard you until yesterday in group. And I am so sorry for that. I'm not saying I want to go completely and totally public, but Cobb is our friend, and despite his selling us out during inception, I mostly trust him now that he's no longer in danger of never seeing his kids grow up. Let's try it, see how it works with him knowing, take it from there."
"That's … that's not really how I was expecting this conversation to go."
"I'm glad I can still surprise you, at least."
Eames knocks their knees together under the table in a friendly way.
The past 24 hours have been such an emotional roller coaster and now he's just bursting with happiness, all the anxiety draining out of him in an instant.
Arthur slides his palm up Eames' thigh under the table.
"What do you say we skip group and spend the afternoon in bed?"
Eames can't agree quickly enough.
They rush down the hall toward their room, pausing now and again to kiss against a wall, too eager to make the entirety of the long journey across the resort without touching and tasting each other.
Arthur presses him against their doorway when they arrive at last, and Eames whispers in his ear, "darling I want you to fuck me like it's our wedding night."
Of course, it's just then that Ariadne comes running around the corner, probably wanting to debrief after the job. She gasps, looking between them, but Eames just shrugs and says, "it's good to try new things sometimes, isn't it?"
Arthur, thank God, bursts out laughing.
"Sorry, Ariadne, we'll talk later, OK?" he says, and hangs the Do Not Disturb sign on the door right in front of her.