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and we smile but never say too much

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"I've been thinking," says Eames in Lisbon.

"Oh, God," says Arthur.

"Why do you never write me love letters?" says Eames.

"Oh, God," says Arthur.

--

Eames does not necessarily fancy himself the hero of any Jane Austen novels; and accordingly, he doesn't give himself any excuses re: softer emotions toward Arthur's person as being the product of ignorance. Eames is plenty self aware and emotionally capable, which is the reason why he is not 1) popping crazy pills or 2) dead in an Osaka gutter somewhere, like certain other forgers. He knows fully well what caused that first rush of infatuation, what caught his interest, what led him to think, Oh, this will hurt. None of that "I was in the middle before I knew I had begun" sentimentalism for Eames. He is not a romantic. Eames can fully fix the hour and the spot and the look and the words. To wit: 13:42; Waverse Steenweg, Brussels, Belgium; calm, over the barrel of a Beretta; "Mr. Eames, I presume; you're late."

(eames thinks back on this sometimes, and wonders if it could have gone any other way. If he would now choose to say something different, to hold indifferent, to turn his back. Maybe walk away.)

--

"No, but really," says Eames in Cairo. "Is it because the spark has gone out of our relationship?"

Eames expects, What relationship? or Yes or I'm not writing you a love letter, Mr. Eames, because I am not in love with you. Are you done reading that file yet? He braces himself, smiles a little brighter.

"Hmm," says Arthur, flicking through a crate of manila folders. He says, "The Gibbons' daughter-in-law--was that Kristin with an 'i' or Kristen with an 'e'?"

"An 'i'," says Eames, and thinks how much worse this is, emptiness instead of pain.

Arthur doesn't look up.

--

Eames is a bit of a lying liar, it being what he does professionally. By relationship, he means it in its most sterile dictionary definition of 'interpersonal interactions between two separate individuals'; but he also means 'intimate connection between two persons who mutually agree to engage in emotional entanglement,' and he also also means 'that thing you and I have where we often have great sex and you look really good in my bed and I consider kidnapping as a viable way of keeping you there except instead of post-shag smokes, you like to clean your guns, which is hot and disturbing and ruins the kidnapping plan; and you don't even stay for breakfast in the mornings, which isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it breaks other things of mine; but I'm not a girl so we don't ever talk about it, so--right, you know, that thing?'

Eames is pretty certain that by relationship, Arthur means, 'advantageous business connection.' Eames is pretty certain because he'd asked Arthur once, "What's our relationship?" and Arthur had said, "Advantageous business connection."

--

"It wouldn't have to be very long," Eames offers, in Busan. "Though I'm sure you wouldn't run out of subject matter to write about, but I realize you're rather busy sometimes."

There is no pause in the clack-clack of Arthur's typing, but it takes on a distinctly wry tone.

"If you're especially pressed for time," Eames continues. "I will accept one of those form letters from the internet. Like: My dear sweet blank, You are the light of my life, my constant north. I dream about your silken, blank-colored hair, your luminous, blank-colored eyes--mine, by the by, are blue--"

"Mr. Eames," says Arthur, ctrl+tabbing through a truly horrific number of open windows. Not one of them is on a porn site, which depresses Eames beyond words. "You can write that letter to yourself, and if you insist, I'll sign it. Please go away now."

On one hand, Eames has an offer of Arthur's signature, which promises all sorts of delight. It won't be legally binding, of course, and it probably won't even be Arthur's real (or full) name, but no matter. There are other uses, like leaving super-bitchy notices on the staff fridge in Arthur's name.

On the other hand: "No, I receive letters like this from myself all the time; wouldn't have the same level of excitement," Eames refuses, because that's rather narcissistically fucked-up, to fill out that kind of form letter for himself. Much more flattering, of course -- given Arthur's propensity to call Eames horrid and blind and a disaster and your shirt has non-consensual relations with everyone's eyes, what's wrong with you? -- but not quite what Eames wants.

--

Eames remembers: in Seattle, a Wednesday afternoon, the rain outside tapering down to a soft drizzling tap on the windows. They have pita bread and hummus and olives straight out of the jar for lunch ("The glamorous life of international criminals," Eames smiles at Ariadne), and the smell of hummus lingers, after.

Arthur is perched on a high stool, labeling Yusuf's test tubes with white stickers and a fine-point Sharpie, while Yusuf coos over some rotavap on eBay for which he's currently waging a ghastly war of attrition. Ariadne, hibernating in foamcore and pencil shavings, leaves Eames alone to dick around on her laptop, fucking with her winamp skins and playing at DJ. In the quiet lull between Metallica ending and Owl City coming on, Eames looks up and catches the sharp lines of Arthur's shoulders as he reaches for another test tube, the smooth extension of elbow and wrist, a confounding sort of grace in the way his hand unfurls: Eames thinks, Oh.

Eames thinks, Look away.

(he doesn't)

--

Sometimes, Eames says darling and means, you mad? you mad? you mad? you mad? you mad?

Sometimes, Eames says darling and means, darling.

--

"I'm putting too much responsibility on you," Eames says in Helsinki. "You're right. I can't expect reciprocation if I--"

"I will ruin you if you write me any love letters," says Arthur, dire. Eames has too much self-preservation to ask him, how? (-- to ask him, please.)

--

They stay at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York, large open suites with soft thick carpet that bury Eames toes and huge bay windows that look out over gleaming Manhattan. Eames presses Arthur into 3000-count Egyptian cotton bedsheets, the smell of crushes lavender rising from the pillows. Arthur's hair is wet, freshly showered, and there is something of sardonic good humor in the slant of his eyes, the slope of his mouth, the way his limbs curl around Eames, pressing but not too hard.

"I--" says Eames, almost the truth, and buries his face in Arthur's neck, and does not say anything at all when he comes.

--

"For if you were by my unkindness shaken, as I by--" says Eames, in Cordoba.

"Not really," says Arthur, absent. He picks the green peppers off Eames' pizza slice and plops them on his own.

"Oh," says Eames, and noticing the peppers, remembers to add, "Thanks."

--

There is no Arthur in Turin, in Kumasi, in Cebu. Eames is not particularly wistful: he doesn't sit at any windows, pining. There is no stabbing ache in his chest; he does not wake up feeling cold and lonely in the mornings; he does not try to catch Arthur's eye after a good trial run only to awkwardly realize that Arthur is not there. Money has not lost its charm; the sun still rises; the taste has not gone out of his peanut butter.

But: Lisbon, Cairo, Busan, Seattle, Helsinki, New York, Cordoba. Eames has never taken so many jobs, in so many places, in so short a time. Eames has never been homeless like this.

--

"Dear Arthur," says Eames, in Melbourne.

"No pet names," says Arthur, stern.

"Darling snookums," says Eames, "that was the salutation. Dear Arthur, In vain have I struggled. You must allow me to tell you how ardent--and violent!--my affections are for you. You pierce my soul--"

"Stop cannibalizing Austen," says Arthur, with a small frown. (Arthur loves Jane, which delights Eames to no end. "On rainy days, with tea and chocolate?" asks Eames. "Under warm blankets next to the fire?" "For her social commentary, you ass," says Arthur, which is such a lie, such a lie.)

"Am I not the Frederick to your Anne?" Eames bats his eyelashes.

"Go on, then," says Arthur, and surprises Eames with his lack of protest. But: "Leave me alone for the next eight years."

"Ah," says Eames. Then he rallies, beaming. "Well, then! After I make my fortunes on the high seas, I shall find you forthwith." He raps his knuckles twice on Arthur's desk, and leaves Arthur to his color coded highlighters and Post-It page markers.

Later that night, Arthur has a dinner of Red Bull and Skittles before burying himself back in his paperwork, while the warehouse slowly empties. Eames pulls out a chess board onto the desk next to Arthur's and plays himself into a stalemate (Evans Gambit opening, bishop retreat and then white, 7.Be2--Eames has studied his Kasparov; but the seven years of classical chess training he has carefully forgotten, Eames always played black.) He thinks about leaving Arthur for eight years, walking away, saying no. It might be a little hard, maybe--but no harder than 3-level inception jobs, no harder than partial retrograde analyses. Eight years is nearly a decade. Eames had not known Arthur a decade ago; there is no reason for him to know Arthur a decade later. It is an aesthetically tasteful sort of symmetry.

Still, around two in the morning, Eames switches Arthur's coffee to decaf. Eventually, Arthur calls it quits for the night. Arthur asks, "You coming?" and Eames says yes; and in the taxi, Arthur says, "There's this job in Singapore," and Eames says yes; and at the hotel, Arthur says, "Come in," and Eames says yes--and yes, and yes, and yes--and follows.

--

"Here's the stapler," announces Arthur, and sets it on Eames' desk. "Also, please stop chewing the pens. They're communal."

"I didn't ask for the stapler," says Eames, though he had been looking for it. Arthur is down-right freaky, sometimes. "Also, no."

"And yet here it is," says Arthur, mild. "Also, I've been growing E. coli cultures in the toaster oven; are you sure you don't want to reconsider?"

--

At a drive-through under a billboard that reads "OVER 99 BILLION SERVED, AT OVER 31K LOCATIONS WORLDWIDE", Eames gets a letter along with his Happy Meal. It's addressed to, "Eames, Who Likes To Talk About His Feelings". The entire upper right of the envelope is covered in stamps and post-marks: redirected and forwarded from Lisbon, Cairo, Busan, Seattle, Helsinki, New York, Cordoba, Melbourne. The tiny island of free space for the return address reads

Arthur
Your Point
!Antarctica

Inside the envelope is a page of plain print paper, with words scrawled in black, fine-point Sharpie: YOU'RE A HUGE DICK.

Eames goes to find Arthur.

"You forgot my coffee," says Arthur.

"What's this?" says Eames, holding up the letter.

"The truth," says Arthur, rooting around his desk for his coffee mug. "You'd better hope Yusuf hasn't been using the coffee pot for his steam distillations." He stands up, and though Eames will likely lose an arm or his life or his dignity for it, he grabs Arthur wrist.

"No, seriously," says Eames; and Arthur agrees, "Yes," not giving an inch.

"Is this--is this my love letter?" asks Eames, because Arthur's exasperation can only be taken as tacit agreement. Eames squints at the handwriting: rough capslock instead of Arthur's usual, neat engineer script--no salutation, no Shakespeare, no terms of endearment, no signature, and it isn't that Eames is a girl, but he kind of is, around Arthur, the fourteen-year-old with a hope chest who wants to wear the football captain's letterman jacket kind of girl. On the other hand, Eames isn't a girl--

He crosses out the r and replaces it with a v.

"I can see why," he tells Arthur, afterwards, beaming. "You're very kind. Thank you."

"I hate you," says Arthur, with immense sincerity.

--

Sometimes, Arthur says, you're a dick, and means, you're a dick.

Sometimes, Arthur gives Eames office supplies, and means, here I am.

--

A diner, 55th street, Flagstaff, Arizona: Eames returns from the restroom to find that Arthur's ordered for him already, something tiny and mostly vegetables from the Kids' Menu. Next to his plate is a large map and a box of crayons. Arthur does not quite smile, but his eyes curve, like the soul of one.

It is a hard thing to resist, thinks Eames, as he bends over his crayons and map. He asks Arthur, "How should I color this?"

"However you like," says Arthur.

Eames considers the map for a moment, working at the crayon box lid. "Have you ever been to Lhasa?" he asks.

"Once," says Arthur. "Got altitude sickness, though."

"Can I kidnap you to there?" asks Eames. He is thinking about lavenders, and Kasparov, and which McDonald it had been. He is thinking about Jane and peanut butter and post-shag breakfasts. He is--all right, he is thinking a little bit about dicks, and being one.

"Your understanding of 'kidnap' is very strange," says Arthur. And: "Giving you my consent makes it not kidnap." And: "Oh, fine, all right."

"And Lichtenstein?" says Eames, coloring Lhasa a happy orange. "Kidnapping to Lichtenstein?"

Arthur quirks an eyebrow at Eames, curious but not a refusal. Lichtenstein is orange, too.

"Manakara," says Eames, and "Santiago", and "Sapporo", and "Forks, Washington"--

"You're ridiculous," says Arthur, not quite laughing, but very close. The soul of one. "All right, all right. So long as it's not Antarctica."

"Not Antarctica," repeats Eames, wondering. He thinks maybe he can have this, then, later--why not Antarctica, and Arthur's dislikes, and. Refusals which are really blanket agreements. He turns back to his map.

"Your world is very orange," observes Arthur.

"Spray-on tan," says Eames. "Creates the master race. I have a plan, you see."

"I don't even know what that means," says Arthur.

Eames smiles. "I don't either," he admits.

--

Arthur writes terrible letters and Eames has never been so homeless as when he is with Arthur; Arthur thinks Eames is a dick and Eames thinks that he should probably leave.

And yet.

Here they both are.