I'll Keep The Heart
Arthur can shut Eames down in a heartbeat, can do it without a second thought.
Sometimes he does.
In the field, while they work, it's a kind of a safety net. Arthur thinks faster on his feet than Eames, processes things before Eames even knows what he's seeing, and can stop Eames in his tracks if he needs to. With nothing more than a thought Arthur can keep Eames out of the line of fire or from shooting the wrong man or from walking into a trap. He never has, though. Usually he just shouts to Eames and Eames knows what he wants done and does it.
He never does it in the field but sometimes late at night or early in the morning, Arthur shuts Eames down. He does it bit by bit. Eames feels him cycle through each cybernetic implant, every bio-electric system. Usually he goes bottom to top, leaves the chest plates and the shoulder for last. He shuts each system down one by one, powers each one back on before moving to the next. Sometimes it feels like Arthur is completely focused on it. Sometimes it feels absentminded, like Arthur is reading or having a bath and Eames is just a bit there. Sometimes it's lazy, like Arthur just wants to feel it. Anyway it happens, Eames likes it. He likes knowing that Arthur is thinking about him.
He shouldn't. Neither of them should. Eames shouldn't like it and Arthur shouldn't do it. Shouldn't be able to do that at all, not even when they're working, because it's stupid and dangerous for somebody to have access to Eames' system that isn't Eames. Even Yusuf has to plug him in at the lab if he wants to tinker with anything.
Yusuf updates Eames' access codes for him every time Eames gets an upgrade and scolds him about not policing his network more closely.
Eames never tells him that Arthur has the codes.
Eames would never tell him that he gives them to Arthur, whispers them in his ear like a love song.
It's not like Yusuf believes in romance anyhow.
"Quit squirming," Yusuf says, adjusting the feed from the wall-mounted Drexler-Hibbs. "You're only going to undo all the folding you've managed."
Eames stops trying to get a glimpse out the door. "Am I still folding?" he asks, aghast. "I thought we'd already moved into the self-assembly bit!"
Yusuf checks his leads and reseats one of them. "Yes, you're still folding. Your molecular rate is down because you got yourself shot in the chest. Your nanites can't repair themselves if they're trying to fix you."
Eames touches the spot in question. There's not a mark, no scar, the nubots in his system have made sure of that. He still knows right where it went in, though. "It was because I was showing off shooting wrong-handed," he explains. Arthur is still angry about it. Not angry that Eames was showing off, Arthur doesn't care about that one way or the other. No, Arthur's still mad that he was shot. Arthur likes things to be exactly the way he likes them and no other way. "I'm actually good at it, when I'm not getting shot."
Yusuf levels a look at him over his glasses. "Granted that is true. But being shot wouldn't have been a problem if you'd got the full Zhu-alloy Feyn armor instead of leaving half of your chest with all the protection God gave a sea sponge."
"I like my sponge-y bits," says Eames loftily, poking at the edges of his plate. He can feel the hum of power through the center of it, like a hummingbird pulse. He wonders how it feels to Arthur when he shuts it down. "They do fantastic things like itch and get tan in the sun and smell bad."
"Believe me, out of the many things of which I am aware, the smell most certainly ranks highly," Yusuf says with a slight smile.
Eames smiles back, hoping he doesn't look like he routinely lets Arthur play with his cybertronic controls.
Yusuf takes his glasses off and folds them into the pocket of his lab coat. "No."
"What?" Eames protests.
"No, whatever it is you're trying to pull on me. Now quit squirming, I'm going to grind your bolt down and get you a fresh dose of nanobots."
Eames looks at his arm. "Do the bots first," he suggests. He wants to leave. Yusuf is one of the people he likes best but he's tired of being in the lab today. "They can get set up while you fiddle with my sharp edges."
"No." Yusuf says.
"But—" says Eames.
"No. If I did you'd only wiggle more and insist that they can work while you do."
"Arthur's getting an upgrade today," Eames says, slumping. "I want to have a look-see before it integrates completely." Arthur during upgrades is vulnerable, unguarded. He's still Arthur but Eames likes to look at him when his soft parts are exposed. He likes it when Arthur lets him look.
Yusuf pulls out an angle grinder. "Yes, well, he's a complete headcase so I'm going to guess that it's not going to happen. Now hold still."
It takes a special sort of person to take the biochips to the brain that Arthur takes. There are all sorts of compatibility tests and cognitive tests and psychological tests and physicals to pass.
Arthur passed them all with flying colors.
He passed the tests for the cybernetic body parts, too, but never gets them.
That's what Eames is for, Arthur says whenever anybody brings it up.
Really it's because Arthur can't stand the thought of all that foreign metal anchored to the thin hold of his skin, punched through his bones like so much jewelry. Eames knows because Arthur has told him so, told him as he felt out the places where Eames' skin met the engineered parts of him, felt where Eames had let the paths for Arthur to travel weave into him. Arthur doesn't like the thought of that for himself.
He likes it when it's on Eames.
Eames knows because Arthur has told him that, too.
Arthur is sitting up on the edge of his bed when Eames finally manages to get over to the BCI building. He looks up when Eames comes in the door and lifts a hand in a casual wave. "Eames," he greets.
Eames deflates. "Damn it."
One side of Arthur's mouth curves up in a half-smile. "Thought you were getting headgear?" he observes, absolutely still except for a slight tilt of his chin to indicate Eames' lack of new hardware on his face.
"Got the sound system," Eames says, slinging himself into the chair by the bed. He tips his head to show off the panel behind his ear. "The eye I'll get in a week. Yusuf insists that I can't lock in more than two upgrades at the same time this go 'round."
Arthur's eyes skim over him, assessing. "The arm—that's the new FAB-J shield?" At Eames' nod, Arthur nods too. "He's right. The new line in the J series has different input values than your other gear; adding in the bio-mimicry of the eye would be a disaster. You'd overrun your bots and you'd burn through all your circuitry trying to tamp it down." He frowns. "Is that bolted all the way through your bicep?
"Yes it is, goes right through the bone. Already healed up. And I'm not getting the BI," Eames says, peering suspiciously at Arthur. "You know I don't have the groundwork for that sort of trick. Are you tracking all right?" He lifts a hand. "How many fingers am I holding up and who am I?"
"Three," Arthur says with a roll of his eyes. He pauses infinitesimally. "The other part I'll figure out again once this cycle stops."
Eames settles back in the chair, watchful still. "Well, it's not as good as the time you hit yourself in the face because you couldn't keep track of all your limbs but I'll take it." Now that he's looking closely, he can see that Arthur's not as sharp as he normally is, cloudy like glass with so many smudged up fingerprints. "How fast are you cycling?"
"Fifteen petaflops." He frowns heavily. "Why is that so low?"
Kicking his feet up on the bed Eames folds his hands behind his head. "Arthur, do you remember what you had done today?"
"Eames," Arthur says.
"Nothing. I remembered," Arthur says. "Who let you in here?" He blinks suddenly and Eames can all but see his brain working faster, regaining the razor edge Eames knows best. "I upgraded all my back-sets," he says. "That's why my process is so slow. Who did let you in?"
"Your 'ware specialist; the pretty one."
Arthur is frowning again, touching at the back of his neck where a thin tendril of blood is making its way from his hairline down to his collar. "She—yes," his face clears slightly. "My old net keys to your core matrices. I told her to let you in when you came by so that I could key in again."
"You told her that?" Eames ask sharply. His feet hitting the floor is loud in the quiet room, his whole body strained forward now. He doesn't like the idea of anybody else knowing that he lets Arthur mess around under his skin. That's private. That's only meant for himself and Arthur to know.
Arthur gives him an unimpressed look. "Yes, Eames, I told her that." His eyes flicker, darken, lighten. "Of course I didn't, dumbass. I told her you were my partner and I wanted you to be let in when you came. Even drugged I'm not dumb enough to tell anybody that I have your codes. It's not their business."
Eames pats his chest, just to the side of his plate. "You've the keys to my heart, darling."
"You make the worst jokes," Arthur says as Eames stands "and quit calling me that."
"Darling," Eames repeats, leaning in and wrapping a hand around the back of Arthur's neck. The blood is sticky, tacky under his hand and Arthur's breath is warm on his cheek as Eames lets him back in.
Eames has killed every cybernetic wetware specialist Arthur's ever had.
He doesn't like the idea of anybody knowing how to get into Arthur's head.
He doesn't feel bad about it in more than an absent way because it's never personal. It's never about the person he's killed: it's always about keeping Arthur safe. It doesn't matter that Arthur can keep himself safe perfectly well, knows how to protect his body and his mind, can take care of himself and Eames as well. What matters is that Eames is thinking of him.
If Arthur told him not to, he wouldn't.
If Arthur told him to stop, he would.
Arthur just tells him to not get caught.
A month later Eames almost regrets getting the new eye-wear. It isn't just that the implant would have been easier—all replacement cornea and nerve-patches—or even that the retractable screen is close enough that his eyelashes brush it when he blinks. Eames can put up with the little things like eyelashes and irritation just fine. What he doesn't like is what he sees, the details and precision of the images he gets when he uses it at moments like this one.
"Are we sure Roan isn't a Cy?" he asks Arthur. He's watching their mark chatting up a waitress at the bar, listening to him lie about his marital status and seeing his hand creep up under her skirt.
"He's clean," Arthur says, sounding distant, like he's thinking about something else. "Nothing I can find shows any alteration." Obviously he's linked up to the net and has been checking again. Arthur likes to be thorough. Hates surprises. "Why? Are you seeing something?"
"Yes. He's obviously nothing but an ass." Eames has his limits. "I hate cheaters." He glances back just in time to see Arthur roll his eyes. "I saw you roll your eyes at me, Arthur; I'm only just up the road."
At the little café five blocks down, seated at a little round table, Arthur smiles into his cup of coffee. "I wouldn't have done it if I thought you wouldn't have seen," he says. "So he's a titanium grade asshole. So what? Just makes it easier for us to get in there."
It makes Eames smile. "I love it when you talk dirty to me," he says.
"Keep it in your pants, Eames. We've got a job to do," says Cobb. His voice is loud enough to make Eames wince. He's forgot again that Eames has the cochlear implants dialed up for surveillance and doesn't need the headsets to hear him. "Arthur, don't encourage him."
"I never do," Arthur says mildly. It's over the headset because he's talking to Cobb as well but it's not too loud. Arthur's shut down the implants, just for a moment while he replies.
Eames fancies that it tingles when Arthur turns it back on.
"We can pack this in, yeah?" says Eames still watching Roan groping at his new lady friend. "He's easy. He probably passes out right after sex so we might not even need to drug him before you and Arthur jack into his brain. Probably don't even need a forge for a man like this. He'll fill in his own companion and the two of you can take whatever you like while he's occupied."
"Just what we need," Cobb corrects. "We only take what we need to get the job done."
They don't actually need Dom Cobb for this job. Dom's got the entire PASIV set but Eames has the PASIV device implants just the same as Dom does and Arthur's got the same biochips for it. Together Arthur and Eames are perfectly capable of extraction work on their own. This job is easy enough that they don't even really need two members on a team, let alone all three of them.
Only, they do need Dom because Dom is the one people are willing to hire. Eames has enough tech that people don't trust him. Nobody but thieves and forgers and killers carry as much gear as he does. And Arthur…well, Arthur is a sociopath and it shows a little; Arthur comes across as severe, unimaginative, and cranky. Arthur just seems like the sort of man who would dispassionately watch a mob tear a man to pieces. Put him together with Eames and a lot of people give them a wide berth. Even the ones who don't know that Arthur is a headcase or that Eames has an honest-to-God trigger finger. Dom, however, is affable and looks trustworthy. Dom seems like a nice guy. He's a family man with a wife and kids.
Well, he had a wife. Eames killed her a few years back when she upgraded Arthur.
It's actually how they met Dom. He had suspected that Mal's death wasn't suicide, Arthur and Eames had helped him 'investigate', Arthur had then framed somebody up and, after Nash got sent to prison, Eames had killed him so that nobody would ever know. He is honestly sorry about Mal. He doesn't regret it—when you work with criminals you have to expect crime—but he's sorry nonetheless. So he gives way to Dom when Dom seems like he needs it because Eames isn't a complete asshole.
"I'm telling you, this is like being offered a silver platter," Eames says to him now. "But if you're sure. We could do it right now. He's pulled his waitress."
"Good enough for me, Eames," comes Cobb's voice again. "Arthur?"
At the little café, at the little table, Arthur finishes his coffee. "Whatever Eames wants; it's his call."
Eames kills Roan later that night after making sure that the wife has an airtight alibi.
He hates cheaters.
There are very few things he considers sacrosanct but love, and the vows one takes for it, top the list. Some things are meant to be replaced and some things are just made to be ruined but not this. Never this. He makes sure Roan knows it.
All the while he does it he can feel his systems power off and on in a slow, rotating cycle.
Arthur is already at work the next day when Eames gets to the used book shop they own as a front for their real work. He's perched on the stool behind the counter and reading a book so old and so battered that the cover is nothing but illegible lines and creases. "Eh! parbleu!" he says softly when Eames comes in "le devoir, c'est de sentir ce qui est grand."
Eames smiles at him, smiles at his down-turned head and distracted little moue. "Je ne regrette rien," he returns as he moves around the shop, moves around him, Arthur at the center of the whole universe as Eames goes about tracking down his feather duster. "Don't quote me the French, Arthur. I'm English."
There is something happy hanging about Arthur's eyes when he finally looks up, a slight smile on his lips and a hint of dimples in his cheeks. "Dom's going to be mad about you killing the mark."
"I wouldn't be surprised. Honestly, he gets so upset at the smallest of things. We were done with him and he deserved it." He glances at the old-fashioned clock hanging on the wall. "Flip the sign, will you? Besides, he can't prove anything, can he? Roan left a note."
"Thoughtful of him," Arthur comments, turning a page in his book.
Eames goes to flip the sign himself, content to tidy and watch Arthur read in their tiny shop with the dusty windows and cluttered shelves.
"Jesus Christ, you cut his dick off?" Cobb asks when he gets in not ten minutes later.
Roan had done that himself because Eames had let him believe he'd live to get it put back in place. What a wanker. "I don't have any biochips so you're going to have to explain yourself, Cobb," he says seriously.
Dom glares and throws the newspaper at Eames' chest.
Roan's suicide has made the front page and has a box inset that notes there's more information about the victim in the society section. Eames reads the paper while Arthur processes the article—and everything else he can find, Eames is sure—on the net. "My, my," Eames says. "His suicide note leaves a lot to be desired. No wonder he gave himself the job." He'd made it very true to the man when he'd written it. He'd been tempted to write it in blood but even he knows that would have been a bit much.
Arthur blinks and looks at Dom. "As much as Eames undoubtedly appreciates the sentiments it's entirely possible that you or I let something slip while we were in the extraction. Roan's suicide note is consistent with all known examples of his writing in both penmanship and style."
"It matches up? You're sure about that?" asks Dom, obviously not believing it at all.
"I think I'm insulted," says Eames. He's a professional, after all. Of course it matches up. Roan would have believed it himself if he'd read it.
"There's also video evidence of Eames in Holland Park and picking pockets on Portobello Road during the estimated time of death," Arthur adds.
"I have to keep in practice," Eames says sensibly. "Skills wither without."
That makes Cobb put his hands in his hair but—and here's the lovely thing—he trusts Arthur. If Arthur says there is video, he believes it.
Then again, so does Eames. He's got no doubt that Arthur has video putting him safely away from the scene of the crime. No doubt at all.
Dom makes the executive decision to close the shop. They've got to go and get checked for leaks, he says. Eames doesn't have any of the brain enhancements that would have leaked subconscious ideas to their mark but he's not allowed to stay back. They're a team, Dom says. They stick together. Besides, he doesn't trust Eames alone in the shop, which is patently ridiculous because it's not even really a proper shop and all Eames ever does in there anyway is dust and watch Arthur read and sell forged documents out the back.
It doesn't bother him, though. He's happy enough to go along and get his eyepiece adjusted out.
Arthur walks beside him, his tie already gone missing and his sleeves cuffed up around his elbows. Above them the sun is shining and the sky is warm and blue.
Eames feels the electricity in his circuits flutter in time with Arthur's steps.
Yusuf smiles when Eames takes his seat in the chair, opening his ports for hook up. "Inspired work," he says as he gets to patching Eames into the system. "I'm impressed."
Eames never admits anything to anybody but Arthur but he likes Yusuf, trusts him as much as he's really able, so he smiles. "I don't have a clue what you mean, Yusuf. Did Cobb ask you to look at the Somnacin mix?" he asks as Yusuf checks Eames' current vitals against his old.
"He did but since it's the same mix you've been using for the past three months I've decided to not look and tell him it's fine anyhow."
"Good," Eames says, settling in.
Yusuf smiles again before it drifts into something more serious. "Eames, have you been having problems with your power supply? It looks like you've been shutting down frequently. The intervals are strange and there are a few odd readings I don't like here."
Arthur's left a mark.
Arthur's done something the nubots and nanites haven't fixed.
"I haven't noticed anything bothersome," Eames says instead of answering.
"Well, there's something going on. You know, we could always put in another electric source," Yusuf offers. He raps on the soft side of Eames' chest. "We can do out the whole internal up here. You took to the cybernetic liver like a duck to water so the amount of sedative needed to overcome your enhanced metabolism wouldn't be an issue. I've got them in your power demand in the shop."
"I like my bits as they are," Eames refuses. "They're very retro."
Yusuf shrugs. "Suit yourself."
It's tempting. Eames is tempted every time Yusuf makes the offer. Yusuf could replace his internals with manufactured pieces. Eames could give Arthur his codes and Arthur could think of Eames, think of all the different pieces of him, and stop his blood from pumping and his lungs from catching air whenever he wanted. Arthur could kill him with a thought, resurrect him with another.
It's so tempting, but he doesn't need it.
Arthur can already make his heart skip a beat, already steals his breath away without all of that fuss.
Arthur meets him outside the BCI. He has Eames' best jacket over his shoulder and is wearing his long coat. Eames loves Arthur's long coat; it's the one that can hide all sorts of weapons and always has Eames' very own gun in one of the deep pockets that Arthur puts his hands in when they get cold. "Dom's getting a deep scan," he says. "He's worried it's him."
Eames doesn't understand Cobb. They're not paid to care about their marks or even very much about their clients. "Is he now?"
"He thinks it's Mal," Arthur explains. "He's worried his projection of her doesn't blame him enough. Or blames him more than he knows." Arthur appears to be marginally interested, perhaps even bemused. Eames raises an eyebrow at him because that's a little more than Arthur usually allots for feelings. Something is going on in that head of his. "He feels guilty she died. Thinks she wouldn't have been at risk if he hadn't been getting in to the business."
"And he has a fair point," Eames points out. "So we're on our own for the rest of the day, are we?" he asks. "Are we going to go back to the shop?"
It's rhetorical. Arthur obviously has something planned, if he's got their coats. "Actually, I've found the people who shot you a couple months back," he says as swings Eames' jacket down from his shoulder. Eames lets Arthur help him put it on, lets Arthur do up each buckle and clasp with methodical precision. When Arthur's done he sets his hands against Eames' chest, one over the flesh and bone and blood of him and the other over the metal. He makes his heart skip, his lungs fail, surges power through every circuit. His hands linger for a few seconds before he takes them away. He reaches into his pocket and comes up with Eames' favorite gun. "I thought we should have a little chat with them about that incident."
"We're going to have a holiday," Eames says delightedly. "Arthur, are we? Say 'yes'."
"Yes," Arthur says. He sounds amused, looks it, but Eames can see the free-fall of fury in him. Arthur's still fiercely angry about that shooting, angry about Eames getting messed up by somebody who wasn't him. They're going to kill them and Arthur is going to make sure that it hurts every way possible. "It's taken months of hard work to run these guys down so don't fuck this up," he warns. "I'll shoot you myself if I have to."
"And people say you haven't got a heart, darling," he says fondly.
Arthur smiles as he set a grenade launcher against his shoulder. "That's what you're for, Mister Eames."