He hasn't given up, won't ever give up, but it is his job to understand probability. He might not be able to work his way through the calculations, but he's always been good at intuiting the odds. And the odds are that Eames is going to die.
He's exhausted, mentally and physically, but he's made it to Vancouver ahead of the storm. The front came in even faster than predicted, arctic winds sailing across the Pacific like a ghost ship, its sheets crackling with ice. At least that's how he's picturing it, because why not add a little flair to your visions of your short, doomed future.
The ship is coming. It's coming for him.
A lot of people in Eames's line of work don't believe in luck, but Eames knows better. He slides a hand into his pocket, flips the casino chip over. And over again. One side smooth, one side rough. That's luck. That's how it goes. The people that don't believe are the ones who never feel both sides of the chip at the same time.
He's the last member of the Singapore team left alive. He saw Mactague snuff it with his own eyes, the first of them to go, knifed in the ribs underneath the giant white ribs of the glass-walled Flower Dome in the Gardens by the Bay. Gita hit the pavement at the bottom of a 78-story hotel in Hong Kong. Zagaeski, a fatal motorcycle accident in Mumbai. Their extractor had made it all the way to Florida before she was beaten to death in the car park of a shopping mall. She'd just bought a new pair of running shoes.
He's feinted and scrambled across the globe by his nails and teeth, in darkness and disguise, in and out of identities, and what the fuck, they just keep coming. Eames is good at disappearing. Everyone in dreamsharing is good at it, but Eames is bloody good at it. No one plays a better shell game. But Manago's men—they just blow away the shells. And they keep coming.
If Eames had known the mark was Nikolais Manago's mistress, he'd have told the Singapore team to go fuck themselves right in the Red Dot and walked, boated, or flown away from the job as fast and far as someone else's money would carry him. Arthur would have known. Arthur would have done his research properly. Arthur would have taken care of them. Arthur would never have let this happen.
Arthur doesn't deserve what Eames is here to do, but life isn't fair, now is it? Eames has never been a noble man and he doesn't really have time anymore to start cultivating the trait.
It's all down to timing now.
The snow is gusting underneath the hotel portico, thick white swirls twisting past the windows like spectral sharks in the sea of winter. Even inside the false-bright hotel lobby the air feels so wet and heavy it's hard for Eames to breathe.
Eames checks his watch. Checks the time on the pay-as-you-go phone where he's tracking the storm. Watches the lobby door over the top of the newspaper he's not reading. Checks that his totem is still in his pocket. Checks his watch again. His heel taps an erratic rhythm against the polished floor, half impatience, half tremor. Weather-worried travelers hum and mumble all around him, and the sound makes his head feel thick.
He doesn't realize how much of his breath he's been holding in until he sees him walk in, at last.
The headline of the Sun blurs at the bottom of his vision for a moment. It's okay now. He's not alone. The city is shut down, Vancouver International, all of it, unprepared for a storm like this, but Eames has made it in, Han Solo leaping through the closing blast doors, and Arthur has made it in, Indiana Jones sliding under the wall of stone.
When he's sure his legs will hold him up properly, Eames stands, arranges a casual smile on his face, and lifts the folded-over newspaper in a wave.
Arthur catches the motion and scowls when he sees Eames behind it. His cheeks are pink with cold and snowflakes are clinging to his slicked-back hair. He's the most beautiful thing Eames has ever seen, his winsome, deadly Arthur, and he's here.
"What the fuck, Eames," Arthur stomps snow off his shoes, "I've been texting."
Okay, not his Arthur. Not yet.
"Sorry, darling, new mobile, last minute, you know," Eames shrugs. "Nice trip, then?"
Arthur glares at him. "That taxi ride," he points an accusing finger back at the door, "was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. And you know me well enough to recognize the severity of that statement. I thought it was supposed to be temperate here."
"Poor pet." Eames exaggerates his pout. "Had I the power to command the elements, I would bathe you in the warmest and brightest of sunlight. Though you do look quite fetching in that scarf."
Arthur sighs the Eames-is-flirting-again sigh and his eyes go critical, looking Eames up and down in turn.
Eames has cleaned himself up as best he could in the room, had a shower and made what he feels is a noble effort at a shave, but he knows he looks worn. His hair's grown out shaggy. There are dark smudges under his eyes. He's lost weight. Even so, he's still the shape he is and the clothes he's picked up along the way don't fit properly. He feels like a dream forgery of himself he didn't get quite right.
Arthur's hardly unobservant, he must see, but all he says after his narrow-eyed inspection is, "Is Jocelyn here?"
"Ah," Eames pulls a regretful face and holds up his phone as though he's actually had a message on it. "Diverted in Calgary, I'm afraid. Darius, too."
"Oh, but it is, darling. You need only look at it in the proper light. Because now, since I arranged this meeting and therefore have some responsibility for your comfort and well-being, you have the most excellent fortune of being my guest until the storm passes."
"Your guest." One of Arthur's eyebrows twitches up. "I'm truly afraid to ask what that means. Eames, I came here to work."
"Arthur," Eames is used to this part of the conversation. Arthur always has to be convinced to have any sort of fun. "Take another look outside. There is no work. No work shall be arriving here this day."
"There's phone. There's Internet. We could get started on the preliminaries."
"No good. Jocelyn will only discuss this one face-to-face. You know how it is. She's playing this one close to the vest. No risky details floating about. Full briefing when and only when the whole team's assembled."
Arthur hums reluctant acknowledgment. "Fine. Okay…here we go. I'm a brave man. What exactly does the Eames Guest Service entail?"
"I'm so happy you asked!" Eames flashes a bright smile, mostly his own, because that wasn't too difficult after all and he's starting to feel a little giddy. Good start, good start. Arthur even steps aside to allow Eames into his space to take the handle of his luggage, one big black suitcase topped with the smaller silver PASIV case. "First, allow your humble bellhop to show you to your room. And then you need but name your pleasure. Champagne in the bath? Perhaps a lovely warm oil massage?"
Eames grins. "Drinks at the bar?"
The corner of Arthur's mouth quirks up. "A drink, I wouldn't mind."
It's been better between them since the Fischer job. There were moments. There have been moments since. Slow steps in the right direction.
Too slow, because now Eames can't wait. He's wanted Arthur for so long and he can't wait any longer. This is his last chance. If he has to go short con, that's how it will be, even though it's not the way he wants it to be between them. Eames knows he doesn't deserve to have Arthur like this, knows Arthur deserves so much better, but Eames is a thief and this is what thieves do: they put their hands on things they aren't supposed to touch, they take things they aren't supposed to have.
He means to have Arthur.
Eames gestures grandly towards the lifts and tips Arthur's suitcase on its wheels. "Then please follow along, dear sir. We're on our way."