someone come and, someone come and save my life
maybe i'll sleep when i am dead but now
it's like the night is taking sides
when all this worry occupies the back of my mind
could it be this misery will suffice?
Eames is, by nature, a liar.
A liar and a conman, and by no means ashamed of it. Everyone in their line of work is one, one way or another, just specialized in lying about different things -- some people lie in the way the non-dreamers lie, slip their way around someone's mind with carefully crafted lies about who they are and why they're there to find a tucked-way little secret. Others still lie about places, perfectly created down to the finest detail from the odd little crack in the window on the third floor that someone made after slamming it shut too hard to the very authentic looking floor mouldings in the lobby, every inch of it made with lies.
He lies about, well, himself. It's something he took to naturally, and he somehow grew up that way. A little lie here, a little lie there, and suddenly he isn't just some random man anymore. He's a policeman, a court official, a VIP that was very much invited to this party how dare you forget me. He's made his fair share of mistakes before learning that the art of impersonation lies not just in acting, but in observing, in watching and picking a person apart, down to the bare bones and basics of their personality so he can reconstruct them realistically and fluidly in himself. It's an art. A subtle art, and one that he knows he's bloody good at.
Learning to do that in a dream had been even easier than Eames thought it would be, just an extension of how how he normally lies, just a tool to make it even more convincing. It's like slipping into someone's skin, taking on their name, their face, their habits, just like identity theft without having to go through the trouble of actually kidnapping the poor sod or something.
He loves it. He thrives off it. It's a little addictive, and Eames is perfectly aware of that, but really, is it somehow illegal to love what you do for a living?
And even if it was illegal, just saying, so to speak -- who the hell even cares?
Eames reads people like he reads books -- as easily as words off the page, and as a means of entertainment.
It's easy, once you learn how. People have patterns, have habits, and it's a language just as much as English is -- just a thousand times more subtle, more complex. Everyone grows up speaking it, but it takes special attention to understand what you're actually saying, what you're telling people without entirely intending to, and Eames happens to be an expert in what he considers the true global lingua franca. He watches people like a hawk, catches the flickers of movement in the grass and knows them for the tasty little mice that they are, secrets, traits, habits, he just absorbs and absorbs and stores them away. It's a nice little feeling, having this much on everyone around you without them suspecting a thing.
He's worked with these men plenty of times before, and they're familiar coworkers -- except for the one. Nash is young and nervous, their latest Architect, and Eames has given up thinking that they just have bad luck in coming across those inclined towards that particular skillset and has come to believe that Cobb has plain horrible taste. The poor boy doesn't really seem to know what he's getting into, anxious and jumpy in a painfully obvious way, and while this isn't the first time they've worked together, Eames expects that one of these days he'll manage to screw them over somehow. Nash is a liar too, of the place kind, and he can see it in his eyes, he's just like most of them -- he's not really in it for the illegal bit. He's here to create, to shape things out of the raw landscape of a dream, but he's also at least a little here for the money.
Arthur is more familiar, definitely. He's always the one hovering somewhere off to the side of the room, maybe towards the front, maybe towards the back but never really in the center unless it's his turn to talk. He's all sharp suits and finely-tailored waistcoats, listens with rapt attention when Cobb talks even though Eames is pretty damn sure they've already gone through the plan before. Arthur's a good man, not really in it for the money, and Eames sees it in the way he talks, the way he moves, the way his fingers crack open the suitcase before they all fall asleep and get to work -- he's in it for the science. Like a scientist with the mind of an artist, this kind of technology needs to be pushed, needs to be explored and experimented with, and this career, while maybe a touch risky, is a fantastic opportunity for it while offering a little bit of a thrill.
And then there's Cobb, and Eames watches him from his chair, tipped back and balanced dangerously on two legs. The job is simple, routine, there's nothing special about it and Eames almost wonders why the hell he's bothering and why Cobb doesn't try to find jobs more worthy of his talent, but he's explaining everything in perfect clarity anyway, their goal, their mark, their means of operation. Cobb is serious and streamlined, a good man, probably a better man than most of the others here, but he's the real con-artist, he's the real thief, and Eames can't see how he's been driven to this. Eames pays rapt attention to the way the words fall from his mouth, the way he writes across the whiteboard and looks over his shoulder back at the rest of them seated haphazardly in their white-plastic deck chairs, and all Eames can see is a goal-focused professional who is very, very determined in the pursuit of his ambitions.
He's carefully guarded, too much so, like a man who knows the language he speaks and is careful not to give too much away. There's something he hides, and that much is obvious, and Eames has brought it up once or twice to Arthur, but the only reply he's ever received is a vague handwave, an acknowledgement and the perfectly genuine admission that he doesn't know what the fuck is going on in his boss' head, and, frankly, respects his privacy. Eames supposes that's admirable, and the two of them, Cobb and Arthur, have always been sort of gentleman thieves, robbers and thugs that aren't quite in it for the profit.
So when Cobb tells him to, surprise surprise, tail their mark until he finds someone suitable to imitate and then do whatever research necessary to make it convincing, Eames just grins, makes an almost ridiculously over-flourished bowing gesture with his hands as he stands, and tells him it'll be absolutely no problem for someone of his own remarkable stature.
Arthur rolls his eyes, and Eames ever-so-casually knocks his leg into the side of his chair as he leaves, enough to throw him a little off balance, laughing as he goes.
It's where he differs from the two of them. Eames considers himself a gentleman, but he is here for the profit -- and not only that, for the fun of it. This job would pay well enough, but the mark was dull, everything painfully routine, and Eames figures that he might as well satisfy some of his curiosity while he's working with them again.
A few days later, in the dead of the night, Eames finds Cobb exactly where he thought he might be.
The random warehouse they'd stuffed themselves in this time is dark, dismal, and barely lit save for the few humming, flickering lights that someone's either forgotten to turn off or couldn't find the switches for. Their research and planning complete, tomorrow was the day they made a move -- Nash was probably off somewhere being nervous, and Arthur he'd brushed past while making his way here, down a dark corridor. There's no doubt Arthur saw him, their eyes met for a moment, and Eames almost slowed to a stop to offer to hold his hand and walk him back to his room if he was afraid of the dark, but Arthur just moves past him and disappears around the corner.
Cobb is laying back in the chair, a single transparent tube linking his wrist to the mechanism resting on the desk, illuminated only by a pretty damn negligible desklight and the faint red glow of the timer. Eames makes his way over, his footsteps echoing in the mostly empty hall, peering down at the timer.
[ 39 : 15 ]
However long he's been in there already, it doesn't matter. Forty minutes, eight hours, is ample time for him to work, and he pulls up another chair, setting it down as quietly as possible as he fishes for another tube int he suitcase.
He fits it to his wrist, drumming his fingers quietly against his knee as he sits down, watching Cobb for a moment. The timer keeps ticking down, and Eames considers that when they're dreaming is when they're at the most powerful, the most influential, and yet when a man sleeps is when he's the most vulnerable. He studies everything, takes it all in by habit, the way his hair rests against his face, the rise-and-fall of his chest as he breathes, calm and even, his fingers twitching slightly against his chest every couple of seconds.
It tells Eames absolutely nothing, because people don't really do much in their sleep. What he can learn from watching people sleep tends to vary between whether or not they snore and how much they care about their hair being all tussled up when they wake up, so really, he isn't sure why he's doing it now.
[ 34 : 07 ]
-- But he's losing time, so.
He smiles at Cobb, even though he knows he can't see it.
"See you in a moment, then?"
And a tiny little laugh, to himself, before he lies down, closes his eyes, and feels the lucid sleep settle into his nerves. As always he remains perfectly, perfectly aware, seeing even though his eyes are closed, watching behind his eyelids as reality collapses itself and fades into nothing, and unfolds as something new, shifting into whatever pile of lies Cobb's decided to create for himself tonight.
He can't wait to see it, really.
It's a bit of a risk, but if Eames had wanted to stay safe, he wouldn't even be anywhere near this damn job.
It's a risk because Eames doesn't know her. It's just a theory he has, a girl he's caught sight of sometimes when he's on the job with Cobb, someone he's seen too many times for it to have somehow been a projection of their subject. It could've been Arthur's, could've been his own, could've been whichever-Architect-they-had-at-the-moment, but there had been the one time Eames managed to see Cobb look at her, and it was all there, spelled out clearly in his eyes.
She was his, somehow, his burden she'd brought with him into someone else's dream. She was beautiful, in a foreign kind of way, and Eames committed every part of her to memory like he does with everything else, kept a look-out for her whenever they were next on a job. He'd seen her around, almost without fail, but Cobb would always find some way ro go in the other direction, which left Eames with very little to go on -- even her name, their relation, Mallorie, ex-wife, had taken a hell of a long time to pry out of Arthur's mouth.
Cobb speaks the solid truth when he introduces himself as the best as what he does, and with that kind of a reputation comes rumors. Eames has heard vague whispers of it, of a woman that Cobb was involved with once, that it didn't turn out well, turned out ugly, turned out violent, one way or another, Mallorie had turned out dead. Arthur confirmed that much, too.
He wonders if he killed her, if he really is a good man, or just an exceptionally reformed one, damaged and broken and trying to fix the pieces.
He walks into the dream in Mal's body -- difficult, since he knows absolutely nothing about her, but he portrays her visually to perfection, at least, he's a professional after all. From the locks of her hair to the curve of her waist, the slender points of her fingers, the shade of her skin, Eames knows he has it right, and being a woman doesn't bother him in the slightest. He's done it before. The things he does for his work.
It's normally not difficult at all, to find the dreamer, but Eames knows that somewhere in here is another Mal, not the real one either but a different kind of a fraud, and maybe a different approach would be more suitable. He walks through the streets, it's evening, barely populated, the soft light of the dying sun playing across the walls, and Eames makes a mental note to maybe someday compliment Cobb on his fantastic romantic taste. It's a little -- familiar, too, maybe based on a memory instead of raw imagination, and oh, lets just see how it works out.
There's a quiet little cafe that somehow feels important, central to this giant lie that Cobb's created in his head, and selects an empty table in the street rather than inside the shop, sits himself down in Mal's body, crosses a leg daintily over the other and rests his hands quietly on a his knee. It's a gamble, but when Eames isn't busy running cons, he's betting roulette numbers and asking for gutsy hits on his blackjack hand. He's no stranger to risk, but just like he's been careful to rig the roulette and hide a few cards up his sleeve, he never goes into things blind. He has insurance.
It's the way Cobb looked at her -- he's sure that even if he doesn't want to, in his dreams, Cobb will come looking for her eventually.
" -- Hey, Mal."
And of course, here he comes, hook, line and sinker.
Cobb was a predictable bastard, sometimes, despite being such a private man, and Eames would've been practically glowing with satisfaction if he wasn't wearing Mal's face. It's her face that looks up at him, a few feet away and crossing the street slowly to the table where he was seated, her fingers that trace just barely across the glass tabletop, her lips that pull into a tiny smile.
It's a wild guess, and that's how this is going to go. Good ol' improv. Eames figures you can never go wrong with saying a name if you enunciate it like it means something. He waits for Cobb's reaction, and he settles into the chair across from him, from her.
Cobb's face is softer than Eames has ever seen it, tired and worn and tinged with something else -- it's Mal's hand that he reaches out for, Mal's hand that he takes in his own and cradles in his fingers, elbows perched on the table's edge, but it's Eames that notes how tight his grip is, but how softly, how soothingly he brushes his thumb across his skin.
"It's been -- maybe ten years, since this, you know?" Cobb says, and Eames watches the way the words fall from his lips with a marked kind of interest. It's different, from what it is when he's awake, from when he's talking to anyone else, and Eames supposes he's lucky that it's kind of obvious that Cobb isn't looking for a response. "Today would've been an anniversary."
Ohh, anniversary. So this is a memory, then, this is interesting, and Eames says nothing in response because he doesn't know Mal's voice, doesn't know how she should sound, what she should say, and though he was close enough to pass with that earlier remark, he can't forge something he hasn't seen, isn't going to take overtly stupid risks. He just reaches out with his other hand and rests it above Cobb's, soothing his fingers down to his wrist, and Cobb is smiling a little, in a faraway kind of way, smiling at Mal's touch rather than who it actually is.
"What did you think," Cobb says suddenly, "When I first asked you? To come here with me."
Direct question. Direct questions were tricky. Eames watches his face, the sheepish little smile, it must be embarrassing, some kind of an inside joke, that doesn't give him a lot to work on the damned little bugger, but he does what comes naturally, leaning further forward on the table, lifting a hand to tuck a lock of lush, curly hair behind his ear before settling his hand back on Cobb's. He isn't entirely sure why he's done it, but maybe he'd hoped that Cobb could be distracted by the pretty pretty woman he clearly has issues with intead of being preoccupied with why she might be acting off.
"I thought you were silly," Eames answers in what he hopes is Mal's voice, smooth and feminine, just high and slightly deep enough for her age, with a hint of the accent he thinks she might have from the way she looked. "But charming."
And for a moment, Cobb doesn't respond, and Eames would be sweating bullets if he wasn't the kind of person to be calm calm calm. He's aware of all the people milling past them in the street, of the other people in the cafe, and some of them cast glances in his direction, but it's nothing particular, nothing noteworthy, not yet, not yet.
Cobb's grip tightens on Mal's hands, on his hands, and he stops breathing for a second.
Then Cobb just laughs, brings their hands closer to him and rests his forehead against them. It sounds a little hollow, forlorn and empty, and Eames feels kind of bad for him -- it's only natural, of course, settling into the role of this Mallorie woman, as he pulls a hand away to brush gently up the sides of Cobb's face, against the stubble on his jawline, up to the strands of his hair, pressing a featherlight kiss against his cheek.
It'd happened without him really counting on it, which is funny, because that's what women tend to say.
And it's not like Eames wasn't perfectly aware, every step of the way, but it's always a little funny when you actually end up in someone's apartment, someone's dream-apartment, and he can't tell if this is apparently very enjoyable improv for Cobb or if he's still reliving the memory from before, if Eames is conveniently managing to play his part without having caught a glimpse of the script.
But it felt natural, perfectly natural and heated and warm, Cobb pushing him down into the bed, back down into the too-soft sheets, curtains only half-drawn from the night sky because they'd apparently been too distracted to care. It's a little -- difficult, to analyze things right now, it's only natural it's only fucking natural he's human, after all, but he sees it in the way he moves, hears it in the way Mal's name seems here on every little sound Cobb makes.
He'd loved her. He loves her. So much. Too much.
Cobb is above her, fingers twisting into the fabric of her dress, picking slowly at buttons as he presses warm, soft kisses all across her neck and shoulders, licks his way up her jaw, but Eames is the one gasping lightly under his touch, and Eames is the one digging his fingers into Cobb's shirt, pulling it up and away from his chest, dragging his hands down his sides. He's gentler than Eames ever thought he could be, clearly dazed and giddy from desire but moving slow and cautiously, and maybe Mal was that kind of person, but Eames never was. He wishes Cobb would hurry up, would smother him down into the blankets, into the floor, the wall, wants Cobb to hurry the fuck up and get it over with and be harder rougher faster and has half a mind to let the illusion slip, grab him by the front of his shirt and push him down into the floor, kiss him until he can't breathe, until he bleeds, show the bastard how it's done.
But he doesn't. He doesn't. He just stays the way he is, wearing her face, her skin, her voice, and he kisses Cobb with her tongue, licks along his teeth and the insides of his cheeks, deep and slow and searching just like Cobb is and he has to fucking bite down the urge to just kiss the son of a bitch hard.
Her hands pull Cobb closer, pull his weight down on top of her, against her, and Cobb's hand runs along her leg, up from her knee to the inside of her thigh, and Eames feels his breath catching, pulls away from the kiss as he runs her hand down Cobb's chest to curl her fingers into his belt, in turn.
And all this time it's there, so plainly spelled out between them, Eames has to repeat it to himself over and over again just because it's just. Right. There. He'd loved her, he loves her, he lovers her he loves her he loves her still, so much that it hurts.
Cobb whispers Mal's name in every breath he takes, lovingly, softly, desperate and needy, but it's Eames that arches his body back up into his, whispering Cobb's name back, delicate and gentle like a well-treasured secret, right into his ear.
He must've lost track of time. Careless, careless, unprofessional, but he's found out enough about Cobb's issues for one night's of work, and it's plenty of material for him to work with in the future. Eames pulls himself from the bed, thoughts lingering vaguely on what's just happened -- well, a good bit of fun, there's nothing wrong with that, but part of him does which he could have had it in a more masculine way -- and looks at Cobb, still curled up on the bed he'd dreamed up for himself.
Eames figures he can't be asleep, even Cobb knows that falling into another dreamstate voluntarily tended to be a bad idea. He must just be lying there. Maybe Mrs. Cobb got up in the middle of the night for a glass of milk -- or other things -- often.
He pulls the dress back on, before realizing it doesn't really matter, but nevermind, nevermind. He's lost track of time, and Cobb has a bit to go before he wakes up, but Eames had planned on waking himself up before that happened anyway -- all the better to make his escape with, back on level zero. There's nothing in here that resembles a weapon, so he turns, of course, to the obvious choice, drawing the curtains back from the still-open window with a loud rustle of cloth.
" -- Mal?"
And right on cue when Eames doesn't need him to be, Cobb jumps upright from the bed, staring at him like he's always been wide awake, and Eames is standing there with a foot on the windowsill, wondering how exactly he's going to explain this one. There's not really a good way out of it.
But then he realizes that Cobb isn't confused. He's practically paralyzed, nervous-nervous-afraid, and oh. Looks like he's stumbled upon something else. He freezes, still, stays exactly where he is for a moment, before he turns away from Cobb without another word, pushing the window open even wider and ducking his head under the glass.
"Mal, please, not now, I just -- "
Cobb sounds frantic, and Eames maybe feels a touch of pity for the man, right now, but shouldn't he have been through this before if it was a memory thing? This was -- their first date or something, something along the lines, and Eames realizes that if Mallorie had jumped out a window, it'd probably be a lot later. At least after they'd married, and everything, and oops. Sequence breaking on his part, but apparently, Cobb just thinks it's his head being a bitch. Works out well enough.
"I can't stay there with you. It's not real. You're -- Mal, please, I -- "
Cobb reaches out and grabs Mal's arm, and Eames feels like all the blood circulation to his fingers is gone from how tight and urgent his grip is. All this stuff about staying, it's delicious, really, something Eames is tempted to stay for just so he could try and sink his teeth into it and figure out exactly what's going on in Cobb's messed up little head now that he's had a good taste but time, dear, time is of the essence.
So he jerks his arm, Mal's arm, out of Cobb's grip, ducks out the window, balances precariously on the ledge outside. It's maybe twelve, thirteen storeys down, and her dress blows in the wind, sweeps her hair back, and Cobb looks like he's close to falling apart.
It's something that might've given him away, if Cobb was in the proper mental state to register it, because when Eames looks back at him, when Mal looks back at him, she looks fascinated, engrossed by the expression on Cobb's face, because it's something new, a part of him he's never seen before, but then it flickers away, because -- careless, Eames, careless.
"I'm sorry, Cobb," he says, in her voice. It's really an apology from Eames, sorry for putting you through this old chap, but hey, I've learned something new today, but it's from her, too, maybe.
He leaps off he windowsill and plummets to the floor below, and the last thing he hears when the dream falls away is a terrible scream that rises above the rushing wind, crumbling into a dry, distraught sob.
Eames wakes up as quietly as he possibly can, puts the tube back where it was, and the chair. He lingers and watches Cobb, he still looks as peaceful in his sleep as ever, as calm and quiet as he always is, even with all of that going on, even with what the poor man must've been through, and Eames kind of wants to dig in deeper and deeper and deeper until he finally knows what's hiding right here, just beneath his skin.
But he doesn't have much time.
[ 06: 25 ]
Eames can't resist resting his hand on Cobb's arm and he's never done that before but it feels familiar, familiar and comfortable, warm skin under his palm, and he leans down, brushes some of Cobb's hair out of his face and whispers, right into his ear;
"Sweet dreams, darling."
By the time the timer ticks to zero and Cobb wakes up, there's no one there, and no reason for Cobb to have suspected otherwise.
"-- Could I ask you something, Cobb?"
Eames is tucking a pistol away into his coat jacket, straightening his suit. They always had to dress up for their missions. It's to practical purpose, of course, to fit in, to get to the target, all carefully planned and orchestrated, but Eames still finds it kind of funny -- dressing up and disgusing themselves physically feels terribly old-school compared to what they can do now.
Arthur's checking over the equipment, Nash is already in the car. Eames would be approaching with him, Cobb and Arthur in another team, they'd isolate the target and do everything as planned, everything would go smoothly smoothly smoothly. Cobb is checking the magazine on his pistol, studying the metal quietly as he turns it over in his hands, glancing up at Eames as he snaps it back into place with a metallic click.
"You should be getting into position. We can't afford to waste time."
"Bear with me, darling," Eames replies easily. "We've got plenty of time."
Cobb flips the gun into his palm, and leans back in his chair, glancing up at Eames as he straightens his tie -- not saying anything other than professional-prepared-ready, and there's a question in his eyes, what is it, Eames.
Eames takes a while to respond, because for a moment he considers putting off the mission for a couple of minutes. He considers taking a few steps forward and closing the space between them, digging his fingers into the that suit, wrapping that that tie around his wrist and palm and tugging him close, threading his fingers through his hair, considers kissing him right there and then, wonders if Cobb would find it familiar.
And he wonders what Arthur would think, and the thought makes him smile a little, glancing away from Cobb to the man still checking and double-checking and making sure everything was working perfectly perfectly fine.
"Sorry," Eames says, with an apologetic smile. "But I was just wondering, this job, as dull and unexciting as it is. I wonder if it's safe."
He hears the suitcase snapping shut, feels Arthur looking at him more than he sees it, keeps his eyes focused on Cobb. Cobb stays on the chair, puts away the gun, and replies evenly, "I've never known you to be nervous."
"Oh, no. I just worry about possible security threats."
"If you mean Nash, then we've worked with him enough times --"
"No, dear. I mean with you."
Arthur's practically glaring at him now, and something flickers across Cobb's eyes, too fast too quick to be recognizable, and he leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees.
"What do you mean?" He says, and Eames hears it, that slight measured quality to his voice, a little more than before, cautious cautious careful.
"Just anything you might be bringing with you, Cobb. Anything that could compromise us. I wouldn't like being led into a situation without knowing all the risks, you must understand."
Eames likes to imagine he saw a little bit of color leave Cobb's face, and Arthur's walking over, now, suitcase in his hand. There's definitely something up with Arthur, his lips a tight line, knuckles bleached white around the suitcase handle, and oh, this is kind of rich, isn't it.
"This isn't the first time you've worked with me," Cobb says evenly, and Eames marvels at how differently he talks, how different the words sound, between here with them, and there, with her. "If you're aware of some gap in our fallbacks that I'm not, then you should be more direct about it, and if not --"'
"No worries, none at all. I'll be on my way." Eames smiles at Cobb, at Arthur, turns on his heel and walks towards the door, out to the street where Nash was probably trembling in the car seat. "Just wanted to be sure."
Eames can see their reflection in a glass window, as he nears the door, and Arthur is standing right next to Cobb, looking at him, brows knitted in concern and confusion -- but Cobb, ah, Cobb, the man is staring right at him, glaring at him like if he stares hard enough he'll get an explanation for what that was about, and Eames can feel his eyes boring into the back of his skull. He figures he'll probably be grilled for this later, when a mission isn't at stake, provided there is a later and Nash doesn't manage to screw this up -- but he'll take that as it comes.
For now he pauses at the doorway, his fingers lingering on the brass doorknob. He offers Cobb nothing but a smile and a nod of acknowledgment over his shoulder, and after a moment, "Good luck. I'll see you in a couple of minutes, eh?"
Cobb's still staring at him, Eames can feel it, and he almost laughs to himself as he closes the door behind him without another word.