"I hear it's raining in Southern California," Eames says with no preamble.
"What? Maybe. I don't know," Arthur says, but he's not quite awake yet so it comes out jumbled.
"Arthur, were you- Did I wake you?"
"What? Maybe. I don't know." Still jumbled.
"It's passed noon your time. Who are you?"
Arthur rolls over and presses his face into the pillow and grumbles out something about a late night.
"It would appear," Eames says, and then goes uncharacteristically quiet.
Arthur is tired and that is why Arthur is reading things into Eames' silence that probably aren't there. Since he'd rather not think about the particulars of Eames' silence and what his own reaction to said silence might mean, Arthur busies himself with sitting up and locating his notebook. It's a delicate business, accomplishing all that while doing his utmost not to jostle his terribly sensitive head. Conveniently, he's left his notebook on his nightstand along with all the other contents of his pockets.
He twiddles his pen, content to wait it out until Eames gets to the point. Just because the dust hasn't settled from their last job doesn't mean he's not ready to take on another.
"So, is it?" Eames asks.
"Is it what?" In the space of about thirty seconds, Arthur had gotten used to the quiet sound of Eames breathing down the line. If Arthur sounds testy it's only because Eames sounds so jarring.
"Raining," Eames says, "try and keep up, you enormous lush."
"Hmm, maybe." Arthur's curtains are drawn and he can't hear rain, but he supposes anything's possible.
"In instances like this it sometimes helps to look out your window. You're having a rough morning, love, I'll walk you through it."
"Eames, stop talking."
Eames tuts. It's simultaneously indulgent and condescending. "Rather defeats the point of a phone call, doesn't it?"
But Arthur, Arthur has one up on Eames. He doesn't need a window when the remote is within reaching distance. After he's fumbled with it a little and searched frantically for the mute button, breaking news informs him that Eames' suspicions are correct. It's raining in Los Angeles. The large Storm Watch 2010 graphic at the bottom corner of the screen is particularly telling.
"It's raining," he says as flat as he can manage.
"That's what I've been telling you."
Arthur closes his eyes and leans back into his pillow. Blue light flickers and Arthur's too hungover for verbal sparring. "Why were you checking my weather anyway?"
"I'm not," he says. "Cobb texted me. Or Cobb's mobile did. I think it may have been commandeered. Why is it that you people always feel the need to share your mundane weather patterns with your scattered friends and acquaintances?"
"Eames," Arthur says, "did you honestly wake me up to talk about the weather?"
"No. Well, yes, but in truth I think someone should check on Cobb. The ratio of exclamation marks to actual words was unsettling."
"I'm hanging up now, Eames."
"I can offer tips for when you venture into the fray. It's okay if you don't have an umbrella, darling. The water won't really hurt you."
"You know I grew up in New England, right? We have all the weather there. Also, it occasionally rains in LA. Three, four times a year even."
"Yes, yes, well I grew up in England England. I've forgotten more about rain than you'll ever know."
Arthur closes his notebook. "There's no job, is there."
"Are we really- Bye Eames. Thanks for calling. It's been swell." Arthur hangs up and flops over in his bed. Now that there’s no one talking in his ear, he can just make out the sound of rain over the traffic.
Arthur has an appointment with his tax guy. Arthur hates his tax guy. Or he hates the careful negation of truth and lies that he’s allowed to tell his tax guy. If Arthur had thought the whole mind crime thing through to the end stages of accounting for his source of considerable income, Arthur probably would have chosen a less complicated and illicit career. Of course, he generally only remembers this on days he has a meeting with his tax guy.
Eames calls just as Arthur’s pulling into the parking lot. Arthur’s running late. He should really let voicemail take care of it. Arthur picks up on the third ring.
“Bad time?” Eames asks.
“I’ve got a minute,” Arthur says. Arthur has a very well paid tax guy, he can wait five minutes. Maybe ten.
Forty minutes later, just Arthur’s eyes are starting to water from all the large numbers in small print, it occurs to Arthur that he has yet to ask Eames why it is that he’s started calling. Eames has yet to volunteer the information.
“Huh,” he says out loud.
“Yes?” Arthur’s tax guy says.
Arthur looks up. “Oh, nothing,” he says. “Nothing.” Arthur grits his teeth and gathers his focus enough to get through the meeting at hand.
Eames' timing is impeccable as ever.
Arthur's jerked forward and has to run a few accommodating steps so he doesn't faceplant on the sidewalk. Gus mistakes Arthur's awkward jog for flat out running and Arthur jerks forward again.
"Gus, heel," Arthur says. Gus ignores him, but slows to pulling Arthur along at a more reasonable pace.
"What on earth are you doing?" Eames asks in his ear.
"Walking the dog."
"You have a dog?"
"I have a sister," Arthur says. "She has a dog."
"Okay. You have a sister who has a dog and you're walking it."
"Walking him." There's a pause, a puzzled pause. "You're wearing a suit, aren't you? Tell me you're wearing a suit."
Arthur glances down. He's wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt, a pair of running shoes. "Absolutely," he says.
"Uhuh," Eames says, then "I love dogs, wanted one forever."
Gus has stopped pulling on the leash to train his sad puppy dog eyes directly at where Arthur is standing still. “Me too,” he says.
Too much travel, not enough normal schedule. It's the price they pay for the things they do. He's been doing it for so long that Arthur doesn't notice it much anymore. He does want a dog though.
“So this is what you do,” Eames says, “when you’re not breaking into people’s minds. You dog sit.”
“Yeah,” Arthur says. “I dog sit. I think, however, the important thing to take away from this is that you’re jealous I dog sit.”
Arthur and Gus settle into a pace quick enough that Gus can expel some excess energy but slow enough that Arthur can still carry a conversation. So just right.
Los Angeles is windy and warm and clear enough to see the San Gabriel Mountains. Arthur stands on his balcony and rubs at his arm and thinks about calling Eames.
He doesn't, in the end. It's been awhile, five maybe six weeks, and Arthur has no idea where Eames is. He could be anywhere; it could be any time. It seems rude.
Arthur doesn't know what he'd say anyway.
"Do you ever get bored? Without the work I mean. I get bored. Do you? Of course you do."
Arthur looks at the contents of his medicine cabinet. "Yeah," he says, "yeah I get bored. How much coffee have you had?"
"Arthur, Arthur, have you ever once seen me drink coffee?"
"Yes?" Arthur says. “Maybe?” He’s only half listening. He switches the Tylenol PM with the Aleve so his various over the counter pain killers are arranged by descending height. After regarding them for a second, Arthur mixes up the bottles again. There's a lot he can deal with, but being the sort of person who arranges their medicine cabinet isn't one of them.
“I’ll help you out, you’ve never seen me drink coffee.”
“I’ve bought you coffee. You definitely drink coffee. There was that one time, in Prague or whatever. I bought you coffee. And that other time, with the job with that thing and the jackass corporate lawyer?”
Eames is silent.
“You didn’t drink it. Jesus, you could’ve just said you didn’t like it. I’d have brought you something else.”
“You’re so rarely kind to me,” Eames says. “I didn’t want to dissuade you from future ventures in being a nice guy.”
“That’s not even remotely true,” Arthur says. It’s maybe true.
Eames laughs; it’s not mean, he’s not hurt by Arthur’s lack of overt displays of friendliness it seems. “It is absolutely true. By the way, excellent memory you’ve got there. ‘It was that time with the thing and the other thing.’ Perfect. I’m so glad we trust you with our lives.”
“The Prague job. The mark was Katrina Merakova. She was the chief financial officer of her father’s telecommunications company. 42 billion a year in sales. She wasn’t militarized, but her topside security was maybe the worst we’ve seen. Top three, anyway. There was no way to get her alone, remember? She worked all the time, no trips scheduled, no major surgeries.” Arthur is showing off, because Arthur is kind of a jerk. He has the ever convenient excuse that he's being baited, but even as he's rattling off long dormant facts and figures from a job that happened four years ago, Arthur remembers other things that he's not about to own up to. Like how the Prague job was was the first job where Arthur had noticed Eames disgusting yet pervasive habit of chewing on the skin around his thumb when he mulled something over.
"Arthur, I wasn't being serious."
Arthur is aware. He goes on anyway. “Her husband stopped by with lunch most days. You thought it was sweet.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Eh, you never mentioned it, but you always smiled when he did it.”
“You’re just making stuff up now.”
“Keep telling yourself that, Eames. Eventually we had to sneak into the building and put her out in her office. You dressed as a janitor.”
Eames clears his throat. “If memory serves, you did too.”
“Funny, I don’t remember that part. And then, and then Cobb got lost, right? We were supposed to let him in and he got lost. You were giving him directions from the toilet. You kept telling him to go down the alley and Cobb kept saying which alley? It’s funny in retrospect, but at the time I wanted to kill you both. I was so sure we were going to get caught.”
“But we didn’t.”
“No, we didn’t. God, that was the job when you quit smoking. All those horrible toothpicks.”
“And you bought me coffee.”
“Coffee you never drank.”
“Ah, but coffee I appreciated.”
Arthur closes the medicine cabinet and catches his reflection. He has to turn away and bite at the corner of his mouth to stop smiling.
“So, you get bored,” he says, effectively changing the subject.
“Desperately,” Eames says.
“Where are you?” Arthur asks.
“I can’t remember.” Eames says.
Arthur buys it, but a second later Eames says, “South of France. Flying to Manila in the morning.” He sounds tired.
Arthur yawns in sympathy. And maybe because he’s not quite over his own lingering jetlag. Perils of the job. “I’ll let you get some sleep then,” he says.
Eames sighs into the phone, frustrated. “You’ve woken me up now, Arthur.”
“Now it’s your job to talk to me until I tire of the sound of your voice. That’s how this works.”
“That should be relatively quick.”
“Don’t count on it,” Eames mumbles. “Clock’s ticking, Arthur. Speak.”
“So demanding,” Arthur says.
“You brought this on yourself,” Eames says. It’s followed by the faint rustling of what Arthur can only presume is Eames turning in his sheets. Arthur closes his eyes, stretches his arm above his pillow to splay his fingertips against the bare wall, and talks.
"Before, when you dreamed, what did you dream about?" Arthur asks.
Eames groans. "Dreams. You don’t really want to talk about dreams. It’s like talking about office supplies, isn’t it? Or spreadsheets. It’s like work." he says.
"It's not. Not really. Come on, tell me."
"I dreamed about what everyone else dreams about. People. Sex. Grocery shopping. Being trapped in American parking garages. Sex."
"That's what you're latching onto? Parking garages?"
"It's just really specific."
"I hear you're into that. Wait, I'm vetoing Penrose parking garages right now, Arthur. Write it down. I will never work a job with a Penrose parking garage, no matter the cut." It sort of dims his argument when Eames punctuates his tirade with an enormous yawn.
Arthur laughs. Eames asks, "Did you write it down?" Arthur ignores him.
"It comes back you know, dreaming. If you stop, after awhile it comes back," Eames says. He's quieter and there's more rustling on his end. If it wasn't crazy, Arthur would swear he could hear him drifting off.
"I know," Arthur says.
They don't talk about giving it up, retiring for a life filled with little mundanities like walking the dog and dreaming about grocery shopping and sex. If they’re talking about cost versus benefit, Arthur is relatively certain that he and Eames are on the same page.
Arthur says bye before he hangs up, but he's sure Eames is already out.
Arthur is fucked. Arthur is fucked because Cobb is fucked and Cobb is an asshole who drags Arthur into getting fucked. Arthur is fucked because Cobb is his asshole. Admittedly, this is more Arthur's fault than Cobb's.
Whatever the semantics, Arthur is fucked. And maybe Eames isn't fucked at the moment, but he certainly understands being fucked, which is why Arthur calls him from outside a warehouse on the 4th of December when it's cold as hell and he can't breathe for being so fucking fucked.
That is an abject lie and Arthur knows it. Arthur calls Eames because he does the math and if it's nine in the evening in New York it's two in the morning in London and god willing Eames won't answer his phone. If Eames doesn't answer his phone Arthur will get his voicemail. He'll hear Eames voice with no consequence; he'll hear him say, clipped but somehow still engaging, "leave a message," and that will be enough.
Arthur closes his eyes and counts each ring. The brick is cold against his back, but the texture is nice, like it scratches an itch he didn't know he had.
Arthur doesn't get Eames voicemail. Three rings in, Eames shouts, "Eames" into the phone amidst an alarming amount of background noise that can only be indicative of a bar. Or a pub. Or whatever they're calling those kind of establishments in the UK these days. Eames has never answered the phone all business, but he has always answered it like he could be all business of the occasion presented itself.
Arthur says, "Hi," though the noise is so loud he's not sure Eames can actually hear him. There's a pause. Arthur imagines Eames pulling the phone away from his ear to check the display, and sure enough a moment later Eames yells, "Arthur!" into his ear. "Hold on a minute, will you?" he says, and Eames is so loud Arthur has to hold his phone away from his ear.
It must take some doing, because it definitely takes some time, but eventually Eames says, "Arthur," into the phone rather than yells it. Instead of the raucous sounds of a bar filled with people, all Arthur can hear is the ambient noise of sporadic traffic.
Arthur says hi again. For a minute, Arthur listens to Eames breathe down the line, then there's the click click catch of a lighter. Arthur waits it out, then says, "It's Monday night."
"Are you checking?" Eames asks.
"No," Arthur says, "just stating a fact." Arthur watches his white puffs of breath and curls his hand in his pocket. "I thought I'd get your voicemail."
Arthur breathes a laugh, and Eames speaks into the conversational void Arthur's failed to fill. "I can hang up and let you try again."
"No," Arthur says. "This is fine."
Eames laughs. "Kind of you. It's fucking freezing out here. Talk to me until I finish my smoke at least."
"Okay," Arthur says. He rubs his back against the wall, unconcerned with whatever red dust his coat may come away with.
"You all right, Arthur?" Eames asks.
"I'm all right," Arthur says, because he is. Now. Or he will be and that's almost the same thing.
It's quiet until Eames says, "It's started to snow."
It's not fair. Arthur's never seen Eames look up at the sky quite like he assumes he must be doing. There's no reason he should be able to imagine it so well.
Arthur looks up too, mimicking the imaginary Eames he's called up from memories that don't exist. The sky is dark and overcast, dusky orange from reflected city light and a too big moon. There's no snow, but there might be if he waits long enough.
"There's this job," Arthur says.
"Belize?" Eames asks.
"Oh, right, you mean the job in Minsk. Tickets bought, room booked. I hear Belarus is lovely in February."
"So you know," Arthur says meaninglessly.
"Cobb called, you’re in need of a forger," Eames says. "Have I ruined the surprise?"
Arthur laughs, also meaninglessly.
“Listen,” Eames goes on, like he’s never met a silence he couldn’t fill. “When do you get in? Minsk is terrible for out of doors activity, but I know this great little -”
Arthur feels a rush of something; a confusing mash of irritation and reluctance and warmth, a lot of warmth, almost enough to quiet the rest. Almost but not quite.
Arthur interrupts Eames. “My travel arrangements are still kind of up in the air,” he says. “I don’t think-”
“Right,” Eames interrupts, not disappointed, something else. Distant maybe, or resigned. “Right, I have to go. See you in Minsk.”
In person, Eames and Arthur fall back into old habits as easy as riding a bike. They bicker. Eames is brilliant. Displays false modesty disguised as genuine. Genuine modesty disguised as false. Arthur relearns how to sharpen all his edges, tops it all off with even, steady competence.
It’s nothing like Arthur thought it would be, and exactly like he remembers it.
Arthur keeps his phone in his pocket. He pulls it out sometimes, just to turn it in circles on his desk. He wonders how it is that Eames can look more like Eames than Arthur remembers. It’s absurd.
Arthur’s more frustrated than he thinks he ought to be, but he just siphons all the extra irritation into the work and manages to channel someone more focused and determined than he feels. Something close to normal. The job goes off without a hitch.
Eames walks out of the warehouse directly ahead of Arthur, two, maybe three paces away. Arthur could catch up, reach out, hold on. He doesn’t.
There's something about living half your life in chemically induced dreams. Certain things carry over into the real world.
It isn't that Arthur confuses reality for dreams, he has enough viable safeguards against that, it's more that rushing headlong into danger is some kind of trained response. He's just as comfortable reaching for his gun no matter the space he occupies, just as capable of throwing a punch or defending his life and the lives of those he works with.
Maybe his fear receptors have dulled from repetitive abuse, or maybe his synapses don't fire quite right anymore. Maybe prolonged exposure to Somnacin has permanently fucked with his serotonin levels. Or muscle memory from dreams transfers seamlessly to reality.
Whatever the reason, there's not a whole lot in this world or that one that Arthur's afraid of.
There are some things, however, that remain terrifying.
Arthur clenches his fist and knocks on Suite 243. When Eames opens the door, he looks freshly clean and very tired. Arthur holds up two plane tickets. Actually, he holds up an email printout of two bar codes that signify tickets within the Virgin Atlantic automated ticket system, but same difference. The itinerary states Belize, that's the important part. That and the lack of a return ticket.
Eames turns away and walks back into his room. Arthur follows him in because Eames didn’t ask him not to.
Eames sits at the edge of the bed holding the printouts. He's quiet and Arthur can't breathe. He's holding his breath. He thinks maybe he made a conscious decision to do so.
Eames takes his time. Arthur tries not to read into it and mostly fails.
"There's not actually a job in Belize, right? Cause I was making that up."
Arthur laughs. It's shaky and he's sure it betrays a million things. "No, no job," he says, and he runs a hand through his hair. It comes away sticky with product and for a minute Arthur honestly and truly hates everything. Eames is going to make him ask.
Arthur takes a step forward. Eames tilts his chin to keep his eyes on Arthur's. "Come with me," Arthur says.
Eames’ hand is warm when he puts it on Arthur’s hip. Arthur has the startling and profound realization that no matter where he’s been in relation to Eames this last year, even across continents, he’s never been more than an arm’s length away. Not really.
Eames tugs a little, makes it so Arthur’s close enough for Eames to lean his head on Arthur’s stomach. Arthur’s hand twitches, going for Eames’ ear or his neck, the base of his skull, anything so long as it’s Eames, but stops just short of touching.
“That’s a yes?”
Eames laughs or sighs, something low and tortuous and unreadable, until finally: “It’s a yes, Arthur.”
Arthur closes his eyes and drops his hand. He runs his fingers through Eames’ hair, over his ear, across his cheek, and stands there until he can’t any longer.