“Try not to miss me while you’re stuck in Croatia,” Eames said, reaching for the t-shirt he’d discarded a few hours earlier on the coffee table.
“The Czech Republic,” Arthur corrected. His eyes caught on the book Eames’s t-shirt had been covering: The Spy Who Loved Me. He’d been meaning to finish that before he left.
“Think I’m going to take Jamieson up on the Rio job he’s running,” Eames said. He stretched, ran a hand through his hair.
“Give me a call if you want a job once I’m back,” Arthur said idly. “Four, five months tops.”
Arthur glanced at the clock; it was only mid-afternoon, plenty of time to go through some last-minute emails before his evening flight.
“Sure thing,” Eames agreed. “Break lots of Eastern European hearts in the meantime.”
“Please,” said Arthur. “We met in Tallinn; you know the clubs I go to aren’t for people with hearts.”
“We’ll always have Estonia,” Eames said, placing a hand over his heart. “Fine, ruin future sex for lots of unsuspecting club goers, and don’t let Jackie fool you into thinking she’s a better forger than I am.”
“We’ll see,” said Arthur. He stood, snagged Eames’s wallet from the coffee table, and tossed it to him.
“Take care,” Eames said, slipping the wallet into his pocket and heading toward the door of Arthur’s apartment.
Arthur flipped him off. “Sweet dreams, Eames.”
Arthur was in the middle of a final check of his luggage when Ariadne called.
“Shouldn’t you be asleep?” he asked. “Or did you sneak into the country without me noticing?”
“As if I would,” said Ariadne. “Still in Paris. Insomnia, et cetera.”
Arthur hmed and sat down at his desk. He had enough time for a brief insomnia chat with Ariadne. God knew he could have used a familiar voice on the other end of a call his first few years in dreamshare, before his body re-learned how to sleep.
“Eames gone?” Ariadne asked.
“His next job doesn’t start for another two weeks.”
“I meant from your apartment, after your pre-job fuck.”
“It’s not—” Arthur began.
“Do you or do you not have a pre-job fuck with Eames?”
“It’s not every time,” said Arthur. “But anyway, yes, he’s gone, so your insomniac brain has my full attention.”
“So there’s the pre-job fuck, the post-job fuck, the we-happen-to-be-in-the-same-city-what-a-coincidence fuck…”
Arthur leaned back in his chair. “He’s good in bed. We’re good in bed together. So? Don’t think I don’t know that you and Yusuf have a colleagues-with-benefits thing going on.”
“It’s just an enjoyable mental picture,” said Ariadne. “You know, something pleasant for my insomniac brain.”
“If you’re curious, all you have to do is ask. He swings both ways,” said Arthur.
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” said Ariadne. “I’d start to feel obligated to sleep with the entire Inception job crew, and Cobb isn’t happening.”
“I’ll be sure to mention that to him.” Arthur spun a little in his chair, taking in the clean lines of his bedroom, disturbed only by the open suitcase at the foot of the bed. He’d miss that bed—its king-sized sprawl, the absurdly expensive mattress, the dark blue comforter he’d spent two weeks searching for, refusing to purchase a blanket with a substandard softness rating.
“Do I have a biological clock?” Ariadne asked.
Arthur did not fall out of his chair, but a lesser point man would have tumbled face-first into the carpet. “What?”
“I’m just thinking, like, do I? Am I going to wake up one day and realize I want babies?” Ariadne paused. “Are you going to wake up one day and realize you want babies?”
“I think you need to go back to bed,” Arthur said firmly.
“You like Phillipa and James,” Ariadne insisted.
“I am a little disturbed that you went from ‘I’m not going to sleep with the one man in dreamshare who has children’ to ‘do I have a biological clock,’” said Arthur.
“I’m already an insomniac, I might do okay,” said Ariadne.
“Good night, Ariadne,” Arthur said, and hung up.
He had a flight to catch.
Jackie was a competent forger—more than competent, really, or else Arthur wouldn’t have agreed to work with her—but there was something off about her this time, something wrong about the situation in the warehouse that Arthur couldn’t quite name.
It took Arthur a week to realize that he was thrown by the simple task of having to make his own coffee, which he never had to do when Eames was around, on a job or otherwise. It had been more than a year since he’d worked with a forger other than Eames, as he’d started to take honest-to-God vacations between the choice jobs he deigned to accept.
He almost texted Eames—Jackie doesn’t make me coffee, you’ve been spoiling me, think you can write a manual on how I take my coffee for my one-night stands—but restrained himself. They were… friends of a sort, but not the kind that texted (or emailed or called or sent postcards) while they were on jobs.
By the end of the first month, Arthur had fourteen unsent emails in his drafts folder. Thirteen of them were to Eames. The fourteenth was to Ariadne, asking about her and Yusuf’s relationship.
By the end of the second month, Arthur admitted that he was bored and just a little lonely, so he told himself it made sense that he was writing emails to Eames, even though he never sent them. Eames was the least boring person he knew, and, other than Dom, the person he saw most regularly in a non-work capacity. Although, to be fair, his and Dom’s non-work interactions historically involved a lot more talking than his and Eames’s. He didn’t question why he wasn’t writing the emails—fragments of emails, mere snippets of thought, really—to Dom.
Have you ever been to the Kafka Museum?
I went last weekend. Are you sure you didn’t make the statue in the courtyard? I have my suspicions.
Have you ever tried glass-blowing?
I bought a set of wine glasses.
This was not a frivolous purchase, given that my old/current set is incomplete, thanks to you.
All right, thanks to us.
I suppose it was for a good cause.
Eastern Europe was not this dull the last time I was here.
Even the sex is dull.
The job was, well, a job. A stupidly long job that was really a long series of related jobs, and normally Arthur liked that sort of thing, liked the blend of scale and efficiency, but the work dragged on and on.
For full days at a time, Arthur was able to immerse himself in the research, the planning and strategizing and sharing of ideas, but before the third month was out, he knew something was missing, and he knew that something was a someone, and he knew that someone was Eames.
I know you think I’m a stuck up asshole on jobs who only wants to be surrounded by other stuck up assholes on jobs but
I know you think you irritate me when you fuck around on jobs
I know you think I only work with you because you’re the best and only put up with you messing around on the job because of your skill
Jackie wouldn’t know a knock-knock joke if it punched her in the face
Jackie wouldn’t know a pun (bad or otherwise) if she fell over it
I know you think I don’t even like you
I know you think I’m only in this for the sex
I’m not sure we ever really established what ‘this’ is
God, how had he missed this?
God, he missed Eames.
And not, he realized, as the fourth month ticked by, just sex with Eames.
Although he did miss sex with Eames, because sex with Eames was fantastic. Sex with Eames was… definitely worthy of being missed.
He missed Eames’s stupid jokes, and stupid shirts, and stupid winks, and the way he always said “take care” before he left, or as Arthur left, as if Arthur wasn’t the acknowledged best.
Mostly, though, what Arthur longed for were things he couldn’t truly miss, because he’d never really had them. Lazy Sunday mornings. Lazy Tuesday mornings, when neither one of them had a job.
Hello kisses. Goodbye kisses. Dinner-looks-good kisses. Make-room-on-the-couch kisses. Kisses just because, without further intent.
Arthur felt as if he’d been watching Eames out of the corner of his eye for years, just catching glimpses, and he was ready to turn his head and really see. To stare, full on. He hoped Eames would hold still so he could drink in the whole picture.
He wasn’t sure if Eames would.
Wisps of conversations, hints Eames had dropped about his life as throwaway asides in planning sessions or between sweaty, exhilarating, carefully casual rounds came back to Arthur, and he clung to them, collected them, strung them together, wanted more.
Eames was such a tease.
So what if Eames was the most talented forger in dreamshare?
Arthur wanted to know what kind of art Eames made when he wasn’t busy creating fake identities. He’d always imagined Eames with paints or pencils or fine pens (and surely the fact that he imagined Eames outside of work at all should have been an early warning sign), but maybe Eames sculpted, teased out shapes from wood or stone or arranged incongruous things in ways no one else would have imagined. Maybe his strong fingers came from molding clay, or maybe he worked with glass after all.
Arthur wanted to know Eames’s thoughts on Scottish independence, but also on dog shows and wood-burning stoves and people who kept fish as pets and other people who didn’t use turn signals.
Arthur wanted to have a five-hour long conversation with Eames, and then sit next to him in silence for another five hours (enough time, surely, for Arthur to finish reading The Spy Who Loved Me, which he’d left at his Los Angeles apartment), and then do it all over again the next day.
Arthur missed and wanted and missed and wanted until the final piece of the job was done, one hundred and thirty-eight days after he’d last seen Eames, and the warehouse was clean and his cut was safely split between three of his secure bank accounts.
He boarded a flight to LAX using a passport Eames had made for him.
It was Arthur’s signal that he wouldn’t mind being met at the airport.
Please still be watching, Arthur thought as the plane took off.
Eames was waiting for him at baggage claim, calmly regarding Arthur as he navigated his way through the jet-lagged masses. Their eyes met over the heads of a stream of recently crying children. Eames stood patiently by the doors, shifting subtly to avoid exiting travelers, but he never turned his head away.
Arthur felt his whole body sag in relief, even though Eames always waited for him at baggage claim after he’d used one of Eames’s passports, and when Eames quirked an eyebrow at this unusual reaction, Arthur just shook his head and smiled.
Eames smiled back.
God, Arthur wanted to kiss him. To hold him. To be held by him.
“Break any hearts?” Eames asked.
“No,” said Arthur.
Idiot, Arthur told himself, as if he would ever want yours.
But Eames was here, waiting for him. That was something, wasn’t it?
“Of course, only heartless nightclubs for you,” Eames teased.
“Stopped going to those,” Arthur ventured. He cleared his throat. “Didn’t fit in anymore.”
Eames froze. A heartbeat later, his facial muscles relaxed into something approaching neutral. “Oh.”
A few businesspeople rushed by them, their briefcases knocking against Arthur’s suitcase. He steadied it with one hand.
“Shall I just… drop you off, then?” Eames asked. “Which I’m happy to do, ever at your service, et cetera.”
“Actually,” said Arthur. “I thought we could get dinner. If you’re interested.”
Eames’s eyes widened. Slowly, he raised one hand, brushed his thumb across Arthur’s cheek. Arthur swallowed, but he didn’t look away. He wasn’t going to look away, not unless Eames told him to.
Eames kissed him, briefly, chastely, as if it were a first kiss. In a way, Arthur thought, maybe it was.
“Darling,” said Eames. “I would love to.”