Actions

Work Header

When We Were Young

Chapter Text


Prologue 

"Rub 'em together all you want, they're not going to breed."

Eames keeps his face impassive. You don't make a decent living gambling without one hell of a poker face, no matter who shows up at your dice game. Cobb's presence does, however, make him a little reckless with his two final chips.

"You never know."

He loses and accepts Cobb's drink offer; Eames would be lying if he said he wasn't interested in his sudden visit. It must be a big job if he was willing to come to Cobol's backyard to find him. Eames would also be lying if he said that wasn't part of Mombasa's appeal.

"So tell me about this job of yours," he says casually, watching Cobb over his drink and trying not to seem to eager. It'd been a  few months since anyone had a job worthy of his particular skills.

"Inception. Now before you bother telling me it’s impossible…"

"No it’s perfectly possible," Eames interjects. "It’s just bloody difficult."

Cobb sighs and looks warily at Eames. "It’s just that.. Arthur keeps telling me it can’t be done."

"Arthur?" Eames lowers his gaze to his hands, feigning disinterest and plucking at a loose thread on his grey trousers. "You’re still working with that stick in the mud?"

"He’s good at what he does right?"

"Oh, he’s the best," Eames fought the fond smirk creeping on his face, "but he has no imagination."

"Not like you." The way Cobb says it sounds like a challenge, one that Eames is only too eager to rise to.

"Listen, if you’re going to perform inception, you need imagination."

"Let me ask you something. Have you done it before?"

Eames hesitates, not sure how much Cobb knows. "We tried it. We got the idea in place. But it didn't take," he says without meeting his eyes.

"Who…" Cobb starts to ask, but one look at Eames' face tells him that he's treading on delicate territory. "You didn’t plant it deep enough?" he asks instead.

"No, it’s not just about depth you know," Eames says. "You need the simplest version of the idea in order for it to grow naturally in the subjects mind. It’s a very subtle art."

"That's why I'm here." Cobb is squinting, like he does when he's trying to be careful with a client. "He misses you, you know," he says gently.

Eames avoids his damn squinty eyes, noticing the man at the bar for the first time. At least this gives him a reason to shut this conversation down.

"No he doesn't," Eames says finally. "But you don't need him to convince me to take the job. What's the idea you need to plant?"

--- 

Chapter 1

Managua, Nicaragua - 2004

Eames was struggling. Specifically struggling not appear as cocky as he felt as he strode — no, sauntered — into the empty office building that held his new team. Dreaming was less than a decade old, and had only been outside the hands of the government for about three years, but Eames was the name being whispered throughout the dream community these days.

"Have you heard of this Eames bloke? He's managed to change his appearance into other people inside the dream. Calls himself a forger."

"I've seen it myself on my last job. One minute he's just some British guy, the next he's the leggy blonde mistress of our target. Even had her mannerisms down pat."

Eames chuckled to himself as he rode the elevator to the top floor of the building. Everyone in dream share knew his name and knew what he did. Forging. It was as easy as studying and replicating a signature. At least for him. Plenty of dreamers attempted to do what he did; some even got their appearance to change. But so far no one, not one of them, had risen to Eames' skill level. And he knew it.

Everyone on this team was new to Eames. Normally he'd like to know at least one person on a job, but since his newfound talent he could afford to be a little risky for the high-paying jobs. No one wanted to risk pissing off the only forger in the business.

"Mr. Eames! Very nice to meet you, sir. I've heard some pretty amazing things about you."

Eames soon figured out that the hand he was shaking belonged to the extractor, Marshall, a tall, thin black man from New York. He was next introduced to Marshall's Japanese wife, Mayumi, who was motherly, sharp as a whip architect. Eames learned that they had met on a job and had been a team ever since. Both were easily in their 50s, but age didn't matter in the dream-share world. Next was Yusuf, the chemist, who was eternally smiling, unless he was hunched over a new batch of chemicals; Eames liked him immediately.

Then there was Arthur.

Arthur had turned from his position at the white board at the front of the room when Eames had walked in. He looked disarmingly young. Dark hair snaked over his ears and just brushed the top of his khaki colored sweater vest. His shirt sleeves were rolled up past his elbows and his tie was loosened. But the first thing Eames noticed about him was the most genuine smile he had ever seen on Arthur's face as he approached.

"Mr. Eames. It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Arthur, the point-man." He strode over and stuck out his ink stained hand. Eames grinned and shook it.

"Pleasure's all mine, darling. And here I was thinking I was a young prodigy of the team."

Arthur faltered for a moment and shrugged, putting his hands in his pockets.

"Maybe you're not as prodigious as you think, Mr. Eames."

Mayumi laughed before Eames could retort and patted Arthur on the shoulder.

"He's older than he looks, dahling, and older still in soul" she chuckled, imitating his accent, "And he comes highly recommended from the Cobbs."

Eames raised an eyebrow. The Cobbs were dream-share pioneers, two of the first to put the PASIV in the hands of the common man. Arthur looked like he wanted to melt into the carpet, the spotlight suddenly on him.

"All right, all right you guys, let's get to work and leave the poor kid alone," Marshall interjected walking over to a semi circle of chairs around the white board. Eames noticed that Arthur, seemingly glad to escape the awkward situation, sat closest to the board and furthest from him.

Eames was unsure if said "kid" was him or Arthur.

He liked this team.

---

"I'm 23."

Eames looked up from his drink at the bar. Arthur slid onto the stool beside him, waiting as much for the bartender to notice him as for Eames' reaction.

Eames wasn't drunk by any means — he had only left the office an hour ago — but Arthur's sudden appearance took him off guard. He stared for just a little too long, taking in his dark, thin eyes and his thin lips. He's a kid for Christ's sake, he scolded himself.

"According to my research, you're only three years older than me. Right? You're 26?" Eames thought he had spoken out loud for a moment, but then realized Arthur was just continuing where he left off. He gathered his wits about him and scrubbed at his stubble. 

"Right, of course. I didn't mean to imply that you were too young to be capable of our line of work. You just seem young to have been dragged into all of this already."

He waved at the bartender to bring Arthur a drink, "and put it on my tab please, the least I can do for insulting the man in the first five minutes of meeting him."

Arthur thanked him and requested a beer from the bartender, some european import beer that Eames recognized from his favorite pub in London. Eames raised his scotch and clinked glasses with Arthur. Both sipped their drinks quietly for a moment, before Eames broke the silence.

"So I take it you already know enough about me, since you found my age despite the fact that Eames is neither my given or family name —"

"Eames is your grandmother's maiden name," Arthur interjected. A livid look must have crossed Eames' face, because Arthur amended quickly, "But I didn't put that in the background check I did for Marshall. I didn't find it relevant. As far as I'm concerned, if you say your name is Eames, it's Eames."

Eames felt his anger recede a little, replaced instead by a little awe. "Well you are obviously good at your research, Arthur, thank you for your discretion." He waved the bartender over for another round. "So tell me how someone as young and brilliant as yourself gets into this business."

Arthur sipped his new beer and turned toward Eames, resting his elbow on the table, his head in his hand.

"Not a lot to know. I joined the military right after high school and was put straight into the dream-share program. After about a year I decided that people needed to know what the military was doing, so I grabbed a PASIV and went AWOL, met the Cobbs and here I am," Arthur rattled off nonchalantly. "Arthur's not my birth name either, by the way, but when you steal confidential information from right under the U.S. Army's nose, they tend to kill you off. Or in my case, fake your death to avoid the embarrassment."

"Bullshit. The U.S. military declared you deceased?" Both laughed loudly, waving to the bartender for another round at the same time.

Now that is sexy, Eames thought, before waving those thoughts to the back of his mind. Arthur may not be as young as he previously thought, but they were still coworkers. At least for the next two weeks.

Still chuckling, Eames spoke again. "So what was the military doing with dreams that everyone needed to know about?"

Arthur's laughter died suddenly and he coughed, taking another sip of beer. He frowned and stared into his beer glass as he spoke. "Terrible things. At first it was a training program where soldiers could strangle, stab and shoot each other, then wake up. And do it over and over for days, instead of hours. As you can imagine, not everyone reacted well," he said before taking another drink. Eames wasn't positive, but it looked like Arthur's hands were shaking. "Right before I decided to leave, I'd heard talk of using dream-share for interrogations of POWs. But they didn't even know about extraction yet, they were just turning dreams into nightmares until someone talked. It was torture. So I ran." He downed his beer and set it on the bar, still looking down into the glass.

Eames downed his glass as well before turning to put his hand on Arthur's shoulder.. "I'm so, so sorry, Arthur. If I had known I would never have brought it up."

"It's fine, Eames, really. The program shut down pretty soon after I left — probably because they realized they couldn't keep it a secret any more," Arthur said, standing up and pasting a smile on his face. "We should get going, though. Big job coming up."

He began pulling out his wallet, but Eames grabbed his hand to stop him.

"Now, Arthur, I said I'd put the drinks on my tab," he said, pulling his hand away a second too slowly.

"But Eames…"

"In all seriousness, Arthur, I am rolling in cash right now, and if I can't spend it on you I'll just end up gambling it away. Save me from myself," he said earnestly, relived that the tension had seen its way out of their conversation. He paid the tab and Arthur smiled, putting his wallet away.

"That's right, you're the mysterious forger everyone is desperate to get on their team," Arthur laughed as they walked out of the bar. "You'll have to show me what you can do when we go under tomorrow."

"Darling, I'll show you whatever you want," Eames replied, entirely too flirtatiously. Outside was a typical hot, muggy, Managua night, and Eames felt a light sheen of sweat form immediately on his forehead.

Realizing their hotels were in separate directions, the two turned to face each other. Eames stuck out his hand.

"See you tomorrow, darling," he said, turning to walk toward his hotel.

"Bright and early, Mr. Eames."

---

Paris, 2010

Arthur recognized the familiar gait of the footsteps entering the empty warehouse behind him.  They weren't Cobb's deliberate strides, or Yusuf's distracted shuffle or even Ariadne's eager tip-toeing. The footsteps seemed tense lope. A forced carelessness. The soft sound of a poker chip clicking against fingernails in the walker's pocket confirmed his identity. The walking stopped.

Arthur turned. Eames hadn't changed much in the five years since he'd seen him last. He had more muscles, less scruff and a suit instead of jeans and a t-shirt, but his face was the same. He wore the same lazy grin and soft eyes that he had when he sauntered into Arthur's life six years ago.

Arthur was the one who had changed, he knew. His hair was cut and slicked back, and his clothes had dropped the "geek" from "geek chic." He looked like an Armani model, stern face and all.

Both regarded each other warily, wanting the other to break the buzzing tension in the room.

"All right, Arthur?" Eames said finally. Arthur let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He nodded.

"Yeah. Yeah I'm all right, Mr. Eames. And you?"

Eames nodded, scratching the back of his head. It was silent for a moment as he worked up the courage to speak.

"Arthur, I-"

"Arthur?" Ariadne's cherubic face appeared in the doorway, a smile beginning on her face when she saw the new arrival. "Is this him? Is this Mr. Eames?"

With a small, knowing nod at Arthur, Eames turned to meet the architect, planting an easy-going smile on his face.

"Just Eames, love, pleasure to meet you. You must be Ariadne." He stretched out his hand as if to shake hers, but pulled her hand up at the last second to lay a small kiss on her knuckles.  "Cobb has told me you are the architect that will take dream-share by storm."

Ariadne blushed instantly. Arthur's eye roll could move mountains.

"Maybe I will," she replied proudly, but not boastfully. "Arthur was just teaching me about paradoxes and impossible objects yesterday. It's really fascinating. I'm hoping to work it into some of our blueprints."

Eames chuckled and turned back to Arthur, strolling leisurely around the shitty lawn chairs as if appreciating their design.

"Arthur showing off, now that doesn't sound like him at all," he sneered. Arthur knew he was just seeing how far he could push him, see how much he could rattle the cage before bruising the animal inside. Arthur was surprised to find, however, that he was bruising quite easily.

"Speaking of showing off, you've been here more than 30 seconds, and you haven't once bragged about forging," Arthur shot back. "What's the matter? People figured out your little trick, now you aren't so special anymore?"

"I am still the best, Arthur, surely you remember," Eames replies, his mouth smirking but his eyes dangerous. This wasn't the familiar joking that had occurred at their first meeting. “It just so happens that most extractors can’t afford me.”

"OK, you two, cut the bullshit and let's get started," Cobb said as he strode into the warehouse, carrying a box of Yusuf's equipment. Yusuf struggled behind him with the rest of the equipment ("You could have bloody helped, Eames, you foul, casino-smelling bastard... Oh, hello Arthur, good to see you again, you're looking well.") Ariadne rushed to help and introduce herself, looking relieved to be getting away from the tension between the point man and the forger.

Cobb must have noticed, because as soon as he placed his box in the designated chemist's corner and rounded on Eames, putting a finger in his face.

"You promised," Cobb half-whispered so only Eames and Arthur could hear him. "You promised you wouldn't let your past interfere with this job.” Arthur almost laughed out loud at the hypocrisy.

"It's not my-" Eames doesn't finish the statement. Fault, Arthur finishes mentally for him, but they both know it isn't true. It is Eames' fault, not just today, but then, too. Eames seems to realize this, a dark look of guilt washing over his face like a wave.

"Yes... Yes of course, Cobb, my apologies,” Eames says. “Let’s get to work.”

Arthur thought for a moment that he had never seen someone look so beaten down.