When Eames meets Arthur, it goes a little something like this:
Gunfire. The smell of Nitroglycerin in the air. Eames is not entirely sure what Nitroglycerin is, actually, but he googled it once, when he was very drunk: what does it smell like after gunshot, he’d googled, with perhaps slightly more spelling mistakes, and Google had worked its magic and told him about “the pungent smell of Nitroglycerin”.
(It had taken him four tries to read that word, and once he managed, he’d kind of regretted the time he’d spent on it.)
So when Eames meets Arthur, there is gunfire to be heard and Nitroglycerin to be smelt, but more importantly, there is his own gun to fire, all while he’s trying not to be shot himself.
He manages to take out three men before a bullet hits him.
He goes down at once.
Granted, the bullet only punctured his arm, but the pain is sharp and unexpected, so he drops his own gun and just kind of lies on the ground for a bit, willing his body to stop shaking.
Gradually, less and less shots are to be heard. Either they’re all killing each other out there, or – and this, he will gather later, is true – someone is taking them out one by one.
That someone soon comes over and holds a gun to Eames’ head.
Eames is barely coherent at this point. He says something like, “just wake me up already”.
A second later, the sensation of the cold steel of the barrel pressed against the side of his head is gone. Someone, a man, says, “you know dreamshare?”, and, when Eames mutters something unintelligible, the same someone adds, “this isn’t a dream.”
Eames tries to tell the man he’s crazy, because if this isn’t a dream, what else would it be, except he can’t really get out any words right now. The man hits him then, just cracks a hand across Eames’ face. “Stay awake,” the man commands.
“Fuck, just-“ Another slap. Eames opens his eyes, and
for the first time.
It might be because he’s rather delirious at the moment, but this man looks beautiful, even covered in blood as he is. Especially covered in blood.
“I’m taking this bullet out,” the man informs him. Eames is not entirely sure if that’s a good idea – didn’t he hear something about people dying that way? But then again, this man seems to think the idea is good, and if he ends up killing Eames, then at least Eames will be able to boast that he bled out in the arms of the most handsome man he’s ever encountered.
Say to whom? He’s not sure; he stopped believing in God a long time ago. Doesn’t matter.
“What’s that?” says the man distractedly, already ripping Eames shirt apart at the hems. Eames must fall back asleep, because the pain surprises him. The man must have gotten a pair of tweezers from somewhere, or maybe he’s just enough of a lunatic to dig out a bullet with his bare hands (then again, it’s not his body, is it? It’s not like it affects him if Eames dies of an infection), but either way, the bullet is out, and the man immediately makes a makeshift bandage out of the remnants of Eames’ shirt.
“That’ll do. Hit me up when you’re back on your feet, alright? I may have a job for you.”
“- name?” Eames manages to get out, torn between wanting to drift away and asking this guy a million questions, like – why? And is he just going to leave Eames here? And – why? And also, would he maybe consider going on a date with Eames?
For now, the name will suffice.
The man says, “it’s Arthur. Give me a call.” With that, he’s gone, and Eames is still lying on the floor in some dirty garage with corpses littered around him, and he’s bleeding and in pain and the bandage is doing absolutely nothing, and he’s in love.
Eames is in the hospital for two days before he decides to release himself early. He escapes through a window, just because he can, and promptly falls down and cracks a rib. The flight to Mombasa would be agony if he weren’t high on painkillers all throughout.
Yusuf, after Eames has knocked down his door twenty minutes past midnight, takes one look at him and smacks him over the head. It hurts more than it should, and now that he thinks of it, maybe his head has been hurting a lot more than it should during the plane ride as well, and maybe the world is actually a little dizzy right now -
He wakes up on the couch with an icepack on his head.
“I’m not a doctor,” Yusuf calls from the kitchen, turning the kettle on by the sound of it. “You know that, right? You know I’m not a doctor?”
“You studied chemistry,” Eames says. “Same thing.”
“It is not the same thing. And I dropped out of chemistry after the first year. Please take note of the painkillers I have placed on the coffee table.”
Eames dutifully swallows the two pills lying there.
“Did you know that you have a gunshot wound? I just thought you might not know that.”
“I know that,” says Eames defensively, even though he’d kind of forgotten. “Do you know Arthur?”
“What, like, from the show?”
“You know,” says Yusuf, like this is a reasonable assumption to make. “Merlin. About King Arthur? With that skinny English guy? With the ears?”
“He’s Irish,” Eames says automatically before his thoughts catch up to him. “No, not that Arthur. Arthur Arthur. Works in dreamshare, apparently. Nearly killed me the other day.”
“Killed you? Should I ring someone up, get a hit out on him?”
Eames had been lying on the couch feeling sorry for himself, but at those words, he sits up straight. “No, don’t do that. I don’t want him dead. Just – get me his phone number.”
“What do you think I am, a wizard? The FBI? How the hell should I do that?”
“Just do it,” Eames says, and falls back asleep.
Eames calls Arthur precisely six days and three hours after Arthur left him lying in the dirt. His number was hard to obtain, during the process of which Eames has promised rather a lot of favours to rather a lot of people. But now, he’s got the number, and it only takes two rings for Arthur to pick up.
“I’ll see you in Stockholm,” Arthur says before Eames can so much as say hello. “Your flight leaves in five hours, better start packing. I’ll send a cab to pick you up from the airport. How is your Swedish?”
“Awful,” Eames replies. It’s passable, actually, but he learned long ago that if you keep expectations low, no one will be disappointed.
Arthur’s sigh makes his stomach drop and tells him that he already succeeded in the disappointment, and he’s not even on the same continent as Arthur yet.
“Start packing,” Arthur repeats, and hangs up. Eames starts packing. It only occurs to him later that Arthur never gave any details on the job, never even asked if Eames wanted to take it.
And Eames never even considered saying no.
The mark is a man named Knut Gunnarsson, whose niece wants to know if Gunnarsson has mentioned her in his will.
There are four of them on this job: Agnes as architect and Kacy as chemist. Eames will be working as an extractor, and he wonders if the only reason Arthur got him in on the job is so that the alliteration will be complete.
“What alliteration?” Arthur asks blankly when Eames shares this thought. Eames, who’d only been making a joke that wasn’t even that funny to begin with, explains, “Eames the extractor. Agnes the architect. Kacy the chemist.”
Explaining a joke always inevitably ruins it, but somehow he thinks Arthur wouldn’t have laughed anyway.
Arthur continues to look blank as he starts: “No, that’s not-“ And then, just like that, his face settles into an expression of resignation. “Doesn’t matter. If you could concentrate on the job, I’d be much appreciating it. I left a file on your desk this morning about the mark, did you see it?”
Eames has, indeed, seen the file. It’s thirty pages long, font size 10, and starts with an in-depth psychological analysis that must have come from the classified files of Gunnarsson’s therapist. Usually reading isn’t giving him much trouble these days, but it took him half an hour to understand the first two paragraphs of that therapist’s report, and after that, he’d pretty much given up.
To Arthur, he says, “yes.”
“And?” Arthur asks after a small pause. “Did you read it?”
Eames, because he’s nothing if not an asshole, says, “I have to say that I simply adore this tie with that shirt, Arthur. Makes you look like you’re in Sixth Form.”
Arthur doesn’t miss a beat, although he’s frowning a bit now. And he really doesn’t look like a school boy, Eames concedes privately. He just looks like he’s memorised How To Be Professional 101.
“That’s a no then. I’m going for lunch, just read it now and we can talk about it when I return. Want anything?”
“A sandwich,” Eames says, even though his stomach has just dropped, and he feels kind of like he’s going to throw up.
Arthur nods and leaves, Kacy and Agnes accompanying him. Eames is left alone in the hotel suite they rented for this purpose. He returns to his desk and stares at the file. How Arthur even assembled it so quickly, he has no idea – they all arrived yesterday, met with the client for dinner, and he knows for a fact that Arthur hadn’t had anything but the basics at that point. Arthur must have worked through the night for this.
Fifty-one minutes later, Eames is on page two. He’s a faster reader than this, would be even though the first report in the file is five pages long and written by someone who must have swallowed a thesaurus and get a sadistic pleasure out of phrasing everything as complicated as possible – all of this wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for the pressure to get this done.
He’s resigned himself to the idea that there is no way he will read through the whole file in the time it takes for Arthur to have lunch, but maybe if he just reads the psychological profile, that will be enough, maybe Arthur will -
The door opens, and his colleagues return. Kacy and Agnes immediately go back to work. Arthur hangs up his coat and wanders over. His cheeks are flushed from the cold outside. He drops a wrapped sandwich on Eames’ desk and asks,
“Well,” Eames says slowly. “I-“
“You haven’t read a word,” Arthur guesses. His tone is flat, and somehow, that makes it worse – makes it seem like he never expected anything different, like this comes as no surprise whatsoever.
Eames snaps with an anger he hadn’t even known was building inside him, “I’m not bloody well stupid.”
“I never said you were.” Across the room, Kacy and Agnes both stop whatever they’re doing to listen while trying to look like they’re not listening. Arthur must notice, too, because he grabs Eames’ arm and says loudly, “We’re going for a walk.”
Eames is like, 80 per cent sure he could take Arthur in a fight, but he doesn’t protest as Arthur bodily shoves him out the door and drags him to the elevator. They don’t speak until they’re outside in the crisp autumn air.
“Alright,” Arthur says. Their hotel is located right by the river, and Arthur has immediately started walking alongside it, so Eames guesses the walk wasn’t just an excuse for the others’ sake. “If you can’t do this job, I need to know, so I can find someone else.”
“I can do the job.” It’s not a lie. He can. He knows he can. He’s a good forger, but he’s a good extractor, too. Somehow, stealing things has always come natural to him.
“Oh,” Arthur says after a slight pause, like he was expecting Eames to agree with him. “Good. What is it, then? Was there something wrong with the information I gave you?”
Arthur does not sound like he thinks there was something wrong with the information he gave Eames. Eames does not think so either; he thinks, in fact, that the information is probably the most well-researched thing in existence. If only it weren’t in writing.
For once, he decides to just say this. “I’m dyslexic.”
“Oh,” Arthur says again, but there is a different tone to it this time, one Eames can't idenfity yet, because they haven't known each other long, because Arthur isn't a knowable bloke. “That wasn’t in your file.”
Eames thinks, what file. Eames says, “it’s not public information.”
“No,” Arthur agrees readily. “It’s not.”
And – did Arthur just admit to hacking into, what, Eames’ school records? That’s, well, it’s crazy, but it’s also kind of hot. Especially because Eames has already hacked into Arthur’s own military records and found them wiped blank, like Arthur never even existed.
“Point is, you can give me as many lovely files as you like, I probably won’t be able to read them on your set timetable.”
For a few moments, there is no sound other than the wind blowing and the rushing water nearby. Eames is not a worrier by nature, but right now he is worried, because even without the blood loss and the concussion Arthur is still awfully handsome, and awfully competent, and Eames would really like to see more of him, except he can’t if Arthur is going to kick him off the job for ineffiency.
Eames says, “are you gonna kick me off the job for ineffiency? Because I am in fact the best you’ve got, so we can either do this on my time or…” He trails off when Arthur doesn’t react, doesn’t give any indication that he even heard Eames.
He looks deep in thought, a little crease to his brow giving him away.
A couple more seconds pass, during which Eames wonders whether Arthur is going to ignore the question completely.
As it turns out, yes, Arthur will indeed be ignoring the question completely. Arthur says, thoughtfully, as if he's not entirely sure about this himself, “would it help if it were sound files? I could do recordings.”
And that – no one ever offered this before. Back in school, his teachers were sympathetic, but not overly invested. Back in the army, no one cared as long as he followed orders. And in dreamshare, well. His colleagues expect him to do his job, no matter how he accomplishes it. Arthur is the first to actually offer his help.
It's nice, and thoughtful, and somehow, it’s not at all what he thought Arthur would be like, after their first disastrous meeting a week ago.
Doesn’t make Arthur any less appealing, though. To the contrary.
And even though Eames thinks this whole thing might just about be the nicest thing anyone has ever said to him, he can’t resist.
“I think you should go on a date with me,” he says, and gives Arthur what he hopes is a seductive smile for good measure.
Arthur frowns a little, and gives him a cool, assessing look in return, then says, “I think you should keep it in your pants. Let’s go back, I’ve got a voicemail to make.”
And that’s that.