Work Header

Phone Tag

Work Text:

Everybody has irreconcilable parts of their personality, seemingly mismatched bits that give depth to the whole: the supermodel who played rugby as a teen, the criminal defense lawyer who reads romance novels. Eames has trained himself to see, appreciate, and exploit the subsurface quirks in people. It makes him an excellent forger and, he knows, an impossible ass to be around sometimes.

Eames loves the little cracks in the persona that Arthur has created for himself, and there are a few; hidden tracks of Creedence Clearwater Revival and Paul Simon on his iPod, the Terry Pratchett and Robert Jordan paperbacks buried in his carry-on. The best of Arthur's idiosyncrasies is how he is on the phone. it’s obvious, from the way that he leaves voicemails, that Arthur has never worked in an actual office. He wanders off, makes pointless asides, and can’t seem to master the uncomplicated goodbye. It’s even better when Arthur’s sleep-deprived, which is fairly often.

Voicemail received 21/3/11 at 03:24:10GMT
From phone number: **********
“Mr. Eames, this is Arthur calling. It’s Thursday afternoon, unless I crossed the international date line at some point, which is entirely possible. So it’s Thursday afternoon, unless it’s Friday, but the point is that we have a job for you in Kuala Lumpur. Please reply promptly if you’re interested, or if you’re not, that would also be helpful. Not that I’m expecting you to be helpful, but it’s nice to be surprised sometimes. Right. Thanks.”

VMS sent 22/3/11 at 13:45:29GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence. Thank you from saving me from a terrible fate, darling, and if you can tell me who wrote that, I’ll bring some chocolates from that shop in Brussels. You know the one. Let me know where to meet you in KL. I’ll be there Tuesday. Or Wednesday, since we haven’t quite figured out that international date thing. I do hope you’ve gotten some sleep by now.”

Voicemail received 24/3/11 at 01:42:29GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Mr Eames, it’s Arthur. I’ll meet you at the Chow Kit night market on Wednesday night. I’m not sure why you’re quoting Dostoyevsky at me, and you can keep the chocolates. Kuala Lumpur has plenty of desert stalls. Probably even enough for your sweet tooth. Maybe. Be there at 7 sharp. I’ll find you.”

VMS sent 24/3/11 at 11:32:09GMT
From phone number: ***********
“You asked Cobb, didn’t you? Arthur, dear, that’s cheating. And we’ll see who finds who.”

Voicemail received 25/3/11 at 05:28:34GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Eames, it’s Arthur. I asked Ariadne. Cobb’s obssessed with French literature, not Russian. And that's hardly cheating when you -- What? Oh. Ariadne says hi, by the way. ...Um. I guess that's it.”

VMS sent 25/3/11 25/3/11 at 11:04:31GMT
From phone number: ***********
“It’s still cheating, no matter who you ask. Also, how can you wear that waistcoast in this heat? Even if it does make your ass look smashing.”



Okay, so Eames has the teensiest crush on Arthur. It’s not a huge thing, really. Eames falls in and out of love with people and places and things all the time. But Arthur is special; he buys suits in Milan, speaks at least three languages, and gives the impression of being able to kill someone by staring at them hard. He also reads books with dragons on the covers, and occasionally drinks Mountain Dew. He’s a paradox, a nerd wrapped in Armani with a shoulder holster made of Spanish leather. Once, Eames swears he heard Arthur singing along to Billy Joel. He has never let Arthur live it down.

Eames does so love the relationship they have; mutual affection disguised as mutual antipathy. And it must be mutual. Arthur wouldn’t put up with him if it weren’t.

Voicemail received: 04/05/11 11:31:07GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Mr. Eames, it’s Arthur. At the request of our client, I need to forward you some information regarding our last job. It’s sensitive, so I need to deliver it in person. God, I can hear the innuendo already. Let me know of an appropriate place to meet you. The western hemisphere would be most convenient to me, not like that’ll really matter to you. And I will hurt you if you make me meet you in a brothel again, Mr. Eames..”

VMS sent: 12/04/11 00:19:38 GMT
From phone number: ***********

Voicemail receivedt: 12/04/11 00:26:38 GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Eames, it’s Arthur. If you’re going to call me when drunk, please don’t do it in a club where you have to compete with Lady Gaga to be heard. Because, you know, you can’t. It’s Lady Gaga. All I heard was my name and something about alcohol and the weather. Please call me back and actually tell me where the hell you are. Christ, why me?”

VMS sent: 12/04/11 00:45:38 GMT
From phone number: ***********

Voicemail received: 12/04/11 00:52:38 GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Google, in its wisdom, has informed me that you’re talking about the Molly Malone statue. I’ll be there in 36 hours, and I – what? No, not interested. No, seriously, I’m not interested in my immortal soul. No, really, fuck off. Fucking Mormons... Anyway, I’ll meet you by the statue in two days. Noon. Bye.”

Voicemail received: 14/04/11 12:36:09GMT
From phone number: ************
“Eames, it’s Arthur. It’s half past noon, and if you have actually left Dublin, I will put you under and kill you as many times as I can – oh. Hello, constable. No, that was a joke. I was not joking, Eames. Good day to you as well, sir. ...Eames, I hate you.”

VMS sent: 14/04/11 13:01:11GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Arthur, light of my life. Sorry to have left you hanging, I was a bit indisposed. Actually, I’m still a bit indisposed. Actually, I’m hoping you can pick me up. Can you track me down with some of your fancy phone gadgetry? I’m missing my wallet, my shoes, and my memory of the last several hours, and would appreciate a ride.”

Voicemail received: 14/04/11 13:06:52GMT
From phone number: ***********
“Eames, your lack of shame is... not really that surprising. If you woke up in the gutter, I’m going to hose you off before letting you in the taxi.”

VMS sent: 14/04/11 13:10:44GMT
From phone number: ***********
“As the great Oscar put it: All of us are in the gutter, darling. But some of us are looking at the stars. But that might just be the concussion. Hurry up, would you? And as for hosing me off, you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep.”



Eames decides to change tack after the Fischer job. He doesn't think too much about his motives, but when he does, he tells himself they're in Arthur's best interest. Arthur’s only four years younger than him, but his reading tastes have yet to drop their balls. He tries so hard to look polished, but nobody is really posh until they know something of literature. So it’s purely for Arthur’s benefit that Eames starts leaving him messages in which he quotes – sometimes at length – great works of literature in his sexiest, most gravely voice. If there's a better way to instill interest in a subject than by associating it with sex, Eames don't want to know what it is.

Voicemail received: 12/6/11 13:14:57G
From phone number: *********
“Mr Eames, it's Arthur. I got your message and have passed your specifications onto Yusuf, who looked like Christmas had come early. Nicely done. On a personal note, please never, ever quote James Joyce at me. The 'scrotum-tightening sea'
is not a phrase I want in my brain. Thank god nobody speaks English in this bar."

VMS sent: 13/6/11 18:27:28GMT
From phone number: **********
“Hello kittentits – I’m trying to expand my repertoire of irritating pet names, if you were wondering. And now here’s a bit of a tirade by T.E. Lawrence, from The Seven Pillars: All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible. Isn’t that nice. I bet you anything Cobb has that written down in some secret diary. Lawrence was also quite enamored with getting his ass whipped bloody by big, butch soldiers. Ta ta for now, kittentits.”

Voicemail received: 14/6/11 09:57:38GMT
From phone number: **********
“Eames, it’s Arthur. If you call me kittentits again, I’m putting a hit out on you. Also, Yusuf has the first batch of that serum tested and he thought you should know. Fuck, where’s my umbrella? I hate rain. Anyway. Bye.”

VMS sent: 16/6/11 23:21:21GMT
From phone number: **********
“Hello Arthur, I’ve got a short one for you today. Excerpt from the poem ‘Porch Scribbles’ by Allen Ginsburg, quite applicable to you, over there in monsoon-land. ‘Everyone loves the rain, except those caught in their business suits; birds whistle, tree leaves shake excited, electric smells rise across the City to the watchers on the balcony– which I imagine as Yusuf, he seems the sort. Give him my regards.“

Voicemail received: 17/6/11 08:36:40GMT
From phone number: **********
“Eames, it’s Arthur. Are you bored? Is that why you’re leaving me all these weird quotes by kinky dead writers? Cobb wants to know where you’re going to be in North America again, he says Phillipa was asking about you. She – what? Oh. Ariadne says hi. When the hell did I become your secretary? Am I the only person with your number? Anyway, Phillipa was asking about you, I don’t know why.”

VMS sent: 18/6//11 15:12:09GMT
From phone number: **********
“Arthur darling, boredom is the desire for desires. Take that as you will. I have a few questions for you, via Zadie Smith, who you should read when you outgrow literature aimed at adolescents: 'Are the skies you sleep under likely to open up for weeks on end? Is the ground you walk on likely to tremble and split? Is there a chance that the ominous mountain casting a midday shadow over your home might one day erupt with no rhyme or reason? Because if the answer is yes to one or all of these questions, then the life you lead is a midnight thing, always a hair's breadth from the witching hour; it is volatile, it is threadbare; it is carefree in the true sense of that term; it is light, losable like a key or a hair clip...There's nothing to stop you---or rather anything could stop you, any hour, any minute. That feeling. That's the real difference in a life.’ Cheery thoughts for a dreary day. I wonder what we trouble we might get up to together if we acknowledged that we lived on such unstable ground. Sorry to go fatalistic on you, sweetheart, but getting shot at does that to me. Bloody Hungarians. Talk to you later, darling.”

Voicemail received: 18/6/11 18:15:51GMT
From phone number: **********
“Eames, this is Arthur. Are you – hang on. What is it? I’m not breaking into the vending machine for you. So? Get some starch and stiffen the bills if it won’t take them. Shut up Eames, I can hear you laughing at me from the future. I have to go shoot a vending machine so Yusuf can have ramen crackers. But um. Yeah. Let me know if you need backup with the Hungarians.”

Voicemail received: 20/6/11 19:28:49GMT
From phone number: **********
“Mr Eames, it’s Arthur. Uh, Cobb heard about the Hungarian job, and he wanted to make sure you made it out all right. He, uh, wants you to call me back. Or him, I guess, but you know, with his kids and everything... yeah. So, let somebody know if you’re alive or what. Ariadne says if you’re dead, she’s going to be pissed at you. Um.... yeah. Bye.”

VMS sent: 24/6/11 11:11:56GMT
From phone number: **********
“Arthur, my love, it’s Eames. I am, in fact, still alive. People don’t die when they should, but when they can, and I just can't be arsed. If I died, who else would try to improve your mind? I do hope you’re thankful, speaking of which. If you are, I can think of several ways you can show your gratitude. Reading a book without some half-naked Viking on the cover being the very least of them.”

Voicemail received: 24/6/11 14:31:43GMT
From phone number: **********
“Mr Eames, it Arthur. I’m not sure why you object to my reading tastes so much, since they’re not nearly as offensive as most of your wardrobe. I’m... Ariadne says she’s glad you’re alive, Yusuf says the new serum is ready. Um. Let us know where to send the newest batch. And I do not read books with half-naked Vikings on them. They’re barbarian warriors.

VMS sent 24/6/11 16:22:48GMT
From phone number: **********
“Arthur, you have abominable taste in everything but your suits. It’s charming, in it’s own weird way. Ooh, listen to this: ‘The religion of orgasm: utilitarianism projected into sex life; efficiency versus indolence; coition reduced to an obstacle to be got past as quickly as possible in order to reach an ecstatic explosion, the only true goal of love-making and of the universe.’ I’m probably a heretic by these standards, I prefer to draw the whole thing out for as long as possible. Do you agree or disagree with Kundera? Inquiring minds want to know.”

Voicemail received: 25/6/11 05:09:39GMT
From phone number: **********
“Eames, are you, like, trying to seduce me? I mean, seriously? Because this is getting–”
-Of course he’s seriously trying–
“SHUT UP YUSUF. Ahem. Uh, we still need your location. Bye.”

VMS sent 25/6/11 16:44:47GMT
From phone number: **********
“Arthur, sweetness, if I were trying to seduce you, I’d start reciting far sexier things at you than Kundera, the decrepit old fucker. Maybe Cummings, who wrote some lovely verses. Let me see if I can remember... Boy, I will touch you with my mind. Touch you and touch and touch until you suddenly give me a smile, shyly obscene. Something, something... ah! Touch you, that is all, lightly, and you utterly will become with infinite ease the poem which I do not write. Lovely poet, Cummings. Nice name as well. Mmmm. I think I might go back to bed for a while. Feel free to join me when you’re ready to come in out of the rain.”

It’s been three days since he last heard from Arthur. Eames wonders if he laid it on a bit too thick with that last message. But honestly, it had been a trying week, what with the Hungarians and everything, so he deserved a bit of fun at Arthur’s expense. And of all Cummings’ poetry, that little ditty isn’t even the most explicit.

He’s been laying low in Algiers; he’s fairly sure the pasty Eastern Europeans won’t look for him where their porcelain skin might burn off in the Mediterranean sun. Eames is just grateful to be out of the grimness of Eastern Europe, even if he does miss the cheap beer.

He’s listening to Gide’s If It Die on his iPod and dozing off in the sun when he senses a movement behind him. He’s grabbing for the gun in his jacket before he recognizes the face behind the aviator shades.

“Arthur. I see you didn’t drown in Bangladesh.”

“And I see you haven’t been drawn and quartered by angry Hungarians.”

“We’ve both had some near misses.” Eames feels slightly defensive, as he usually does when confronted with Arthur in the flesh. All that adorable awkwardness that comes through in his voicemail messages is locked up behind a veneer of competent professionalism. Arthur's disemobodied voice is far less guarded.

Arthur drops his bag and takes a seat at Eames’ table. He signals the waiter and asks, in flawless French, for a glass of mint tea. They take a moment to survey each other.

“Not that I’m not overjoyed to see you,” Eames asks to break the silence. “But to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Yusuf’s asked me to deliver the samples of that serum you asked for.”

Eames stares at him.“You tracked me down and flew halfway across the world to deliver me some homebrewed experiment of Yusuf’s? Darling, FedEx exists for a reason.”

“I needed a vacation, and you did invite me,” Arthur says, then looks like he wishes he hadn’t. And it could be the sun, but Arthur looks like he’s blushing. Eames casts his mind back to when he invited Arthur to– ah. That last message.

“Cummings must have gotten to you more than I thought.”

“I hate you,” Arthur says. He’s definitely blushing now.

“I hate and I love. Why do I do it, you may ask? I–”

“I don’t know, but I feel it happening to me and I’m burning up.”

Eames raises his eyebrows. “You know Catullus.”

Arthur shrugs, shoulders tense. “I took Latin in school.”

Eames leans forward, brushing Arthur’s calf with his bare foot. Arthur twitches in a truly delightful way. “Do you know any of his other poems?”

Arthur leans forward, and his breath tickles Eames ear as he whispers Pedicabo ego vos et irumabo...

VMS sent: 1/7/11 09:45:34GMT
From phone number: **********
“Ariadne, it’s Arthur. It’s, what, Wednesday-”
“Thursday, darling –”
Shut up. Uh, Thursday morning. I got your message, wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to get up to Prague right away, because–”
“We’re otherwise occupied. With sex. Incredible, acrobatic, gravity-defyingmmmf–”
“If you don’t shut up and let me leave this message in peace, I swear to god I’m not going to readNerudatoyouinthebathlikeIpromised... Thank you. As I was saying, Eames and I can be in Prague... let’s say Monday. Tuesday at the latest. And uh... thanks for telling me about Catullus. It worked out. As you probably noticed. Um. Bye.”