"Five Songs Eames Can't Sing (and the One Arthur Can)"
"Little ditty about Jack and Diane.
Two American kids growing up in the heartland.
Jacky gonna be a football star.
Diane debutante backseat of Jacky's car."
Arthur flicks the station off, silencing both Mellencamp and Eames with no mercy—and Eames gives him plenty of time to produce it. It's the first time the entire car ride that Arthur has indicated even faint awareness of Eames' presence, but unfortunately, it doesn't start a trend. There are no apologies, and not so much as a look to Eames. Arthur just brings his hand back to the wheel, putting himself perfectly at ten and two, and Eames knows:
Arthur's an anal prick.
Oh, Eames suspected it before—it's not like Arthur hides it. He doesn't smile, his suit is pressed and fitted, his tie is tightly notched, and there isn't a hair out of place on that squinty-eyed head of his—and from a distance, Eames appreciates. It all comes together for a very attractive package. But, looking like that, it's hard not to think him more Abercrombie model than human being, and Arthur in their three weeks of knowing each other hasn't disappointed yet. He's stiff and coiffed and always hooded eyes looking at Eames like he's a particularly disgusting piece of gum under his shoe.
And now he has the gall to cut off John Cougar Mellencamp. It's more than prickish—it's downright un-American. Eames isn't even from the stupid country and he knows that.
When Arthur's silence reaches maximum annoyance-inducing levels, Eames glares. "While I'll admit that's a lovely stick, Arthur, if you wear it all the way to Berlin surely your ass is going to sting."
But Arthur doesn't answer and despite himself, Eames smirks. He can't really say why. He could—easily—punch Arthur across the face, and there's a part of him arguing rather convincingly for it. Arthur's clawed under his skin like most people only wish they could, and Eames can tell he's done the same right back because Cobb's apologized near constantly from the beginning (maybe afraid that Eames will take off with his share of the advance from a perceived injustice). 'Arthur believes in his job,' he says. 'He's known a lot of thrill seekers, doing it for kicks,' he says.
And maybe that's true. But Eames has been doing this thing for three years now and he knows for a fact: everybody in this gig is doing it, at least in some tiny part, for the kick. Which means Arthur's no better which means that whatever this is, it's something about Eames himself that bugs the old tightwad so much.
And he's looking forward to finding out just what.
"What's the matter with the clothes I'm wearing?
Can't you tell that your tie's too wide?
Maybe I should buy some old tab collars?
Welcome back to the age of jive.
Where have you been hidin' out lately, honey?
You can't dress trashy till you spend a lot of money.
Everybody's talkin' 'bout the new sound
Funny, but it's still rock and roll to me."
Arthur doesn't even hear the song, really. He's walking to the car with the coffee and all he needs to see is Eames, head bobbing like he's having a seizure and mouth flapping away, to know what he's in for. When he opens the door, there's the tiniest bit of some synthesized beat before he turns the dial down.
The way Eames looks at him though, you'd think Arthur had pissed in his coffee and poured it on his lap.
"Do you have something against music, Arthur, or just the music I like?"
Arthur scoffs. The word 'music', as far as he's concerned, shouldn't have to exist in the same universe as whatever Eames pipes in through the speakers. He doesn't bother with the verbal retort though; just passes over the tray as he buckles himself. "Just take your coffee."
"No, I'm genuinely curious."
Arthur sighs, shoving both cups into holders. "I like quiet when I drive."
"All the time?"
"Yes." He starts up the car, backing out in seconds. "Your clothes are loud enough."
"So glad you can hear them; I do it especially for you."
"When are you going to get a license for America again?"
"When you people start using the proper side of the road."
Arthur opens his mouth so answer before the thought hits: What am I doing? Arguing with Eames over music and clothes and driving—what happened to the 'Ignore him until he goes away' plan? That worked the first few jobs; he still felt tense, every muscle drawn out, but at least he didn't add to it himself. Where's his patience?
"Is it really that hard to just switch sides long enough to get a license?"
"Ask your country. You're the one doing it the opposite way from the whole bloody rest of the world."
Talking like this, you could think we're friends.
"Is it my imagination
Or have I finally found something worth living for?
I was looking for some action
But all I found was cigarettes and alcohol."
Eames shuts it off. Not because he wants to—Eames has fond memories of Oasis. They provided the soundtrack for the (third) time he became a man (the first two times, due to a series of complications he would rather not remember, he's decided didn't count). But Arthur blinks and scrunches up his nose and he's still so delightfully drunk off his perfect little ass from a post-job celebration that you'd think Eames solved the energy crisis, he's so confused. So Eames explains, "I drive, I get to be the stick-in-the-mud."
Arthur frowns. "But . . . you're Eames."
"That I am."
"Eames doesn't do that."
"But tonight, he does and I do."
"But no. Eames is always annoying. And loud. Loud like his clothes."
"Lovely to know what you think, Arthur, but seriously. This is reality, this is me, and I am doing this."
It's still not quite getting through and Eames thinks by now it should be old but somehow it just isn't. Arthur is the strangest brand of drunk he's ever seen—he stands firm, he doesn't slur, he uses words like 'recalcitrant' and 'lecherous'. It's only his reasoning skills, always so clear and logical, that vanish, leaving something more akin to a pouting puppy than the point man Eames has come to know and loath. His hair's even so mussed that the bangs fall into his eyes like some ungroomed mutt's, though he tries adamantly to swipe it away. After the fourth try and the arrival at the traffic jam from hell, Eames just grabs and a comb from his pocket and pomade from the dashboard (which is actually just a guess on his part, though he isn't surprised—Arthur would have pomade in the dashboard) and says, "Come here."
And surprisingly, Arthur does. He leans close, and doesn't flinch when the cold gel hits, or when Eames fingers work it back. He doesn't replicate Arthur's usual style; just combs it to the side (and none too neatly). It seems to satisfy though, as Arthur smiles, this little tug at the right corner that dimples up his cheek that warms Eames to the core.
It's not till later, when Arthur's safely deposited in a couch and Eames just keeps staring from the archway, eyes tracing the lanky frame up and down as it twists under a blanket, that he thinks Arthur has maybe gotten a little deeper under his skin than he realized.
. . . Well, shit.
"It's not easy having yourself a good time:
Greasing up those bets and betters
Watching out they don't four-letter.
Fuck and kiss you both at the same time.
Smells like something I've forgotten
Curled up died and now it's rotten
I'm not a gangster tonight.
Don't want to be a bad guy.
I'm just a loner, baby.
And now you've gotten in my way."
Arthur's not even driving when he hits eject and shoves the CD back in a sleeve—but then, Eames's always more or less known needing quiet was just an excuse.
Another good reason not to love Arthur, he thinks. He's a liar who changes up the rules.
Eames has a whole list of these reasons not to love Arthur. Unsurprisingly, most all come back in some way to number one. That, of course, being that Arthur doesn't love him. That, in fact, in a choice to save either Eames or a serial killer from death row, reason might win out in his favor but only just barely. Four years of knowing each other and Arthur still looks at him the same way: like gum under his polished black Gucci shoes. Gum with bug legs and spit still leaking from the side. He still talks to him like a child—actually, in a way, that's new. There was a period where some level of banter came into play. Now it's the occasional harsh word mixed with long silence—and when you have a six hour drive to Liverpool still in front of you, there's nothing worse than knowing that even with company your drive's destined to be devoid of human contact.
So, in fact, it got worse. Excellent.
There are other reasons on the list. Eames likes his men 6'2" and up. Arthur's cologne clogs his sinuses (as discovered in the Great Toiletries Mix-Up of '07). Eames hates LA almost as much as he hates France and Arthur adores both. But more often than not, it all feels like padding to make him feel better.
Because the more they drive like this, the longer it takes to remember the list.
"What if I promise not to sing?" he asks. "Could I listen to music then?"
Arthur shrugs. "I guess so."
"Then I solemnly swear. Please."
He puts the CD back in and doesn't look at Eames once. Just stares out at the countryside rolling past and mumbles, "Can't believe you listen to this shit."
Another reason: awful, awful taste in music.
"Nibbling on sponge cake
Watching the sun bake
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strumming my six-string
On my front porch swing
Smell those shrimp they're beginning to boil."
Arthur's pumping gas and Eames takes full advantage. He rolls down the window ("All the better to serenade the world, Arthur") and turns the volume to car-shaking levels—and this wouldn't be so bad if Eames weren't completely capable of singing even louder.
"Some people claim that there's a WOOOOOOOOMAAAAAAN to BLAAAAAAAAME. But I KNOW. It's NOOOOOBODY'S fault."
It's not Arthur that shuts him up this time, but a gas attendant, mercifully pointing out the disrespect to the other customers. Sure, Eames just gets into an argument about his rights (which Arthur normally would smirk at since, being both British and here on a false visa, Eames really doesn't have any) but at least it's not singing, that off pitch mangling of an already atrocious song—not that Eames doesn't try to make up for the lack of talent with enthusiasm.
Arthur could tolerate it though. If he wanted. If it was just the singing, and it's obvious now that it isn't. This is the first time in a little over a year that Eames has actually taken on a job with him and Cobb and in that time, Arthur's worked with a dozen different forgers. One bit his nails, one whistled show tunes; one even had a lisp. But again and again, no matter how grating, Arthur just focused and ignored the problem.
So why couldn't he do the same with Eames? The question was like a fly, too quick to catch but always buzzing near—
Until finally one day the hotel alarm clock woke him up with Billy Joel and he clutched the pillow tight, suddenly aching with a loss he couldn't name as his ears pounded with a different voice (like sandpaper and broken pianos).
Until finally, one day, he realized: the problem was less Eames' 'singing' in itself, and more the fact that Arthur was actually getting a little turned on by it. The way each cracked note comes with this grin (not apologizing, never apologizing—almost oddly proud). The accidental good note, so rare but low and sweet. The way Eames, while never all that restrained, just lets go when in the throes of the song, reverting to some inner goofy twelve year old playing air guitar in his mother's basement.
It's too damned adorable and distracting for anyone's good, especially on a mission—
"Fucking teenagers," Eames says, stalking back.
Arthur replaces the nozzle, refusing to let his eyes wander to Eames. Eames who's been whining about the heat all day and thus stripped to a thin white tee and old worn soccer ("Football!") shorts with holes in all the wrong places.
"You were the one being obnoxious," he says, voice level.
"Me? I've been here one minute; what damage could have I possibly done?"
"You've been with me all day; don't you think that was damage enough?"
And it hurts to say, but it's Eames. It's Eames of all people and if there's one thing Arthur knows to be undeniably true, it's this: you do not fall in love with people like Eames.
Love's tough enough; you don't need to complicate it with someone who blows away with the wind.
The car breaks down off of 495, smack dab between the middle of two rest stops and at the ungodly hour of three in the morning. Cobb, having gone on ahead of them a week before, is probably driving as fast as he can right now to get them, but it's still a good three hours until he gets here and Eames plans on sleeping. He hasn't even bothered with the radio on this outing. Arthur's eyes shoot bullets if Eames so much as twitches and it just doesn't seem worth it anymore. You can only take so much rejection and contrary to what most people would believe, Eames isn't a masochist. He genuinely tries to stay away from Arthur nowadays. He takes different jobs with new people, and sometimes just pretends to. He isn't sure what it says about him that he'd fall for someone who hates his guts (though it probably has to do with him being a stupid, stupid ass) but he's more than practiced at dealing with it.
Which is why he curses himself for letting himself slip, just this one time, when he hears between the whines of passing cars:
"We've always thought we were only fooling. But look at us now, at least a little in love."
He can't hear the original recording; he can barely hear the song period, hushed out in low tones from outside the window. Eames opens his eyes, squinting against the light, and makes out a thin white cord from earbuds hanging from Arthur's ear. He stands slumped against the car, singing in a whisper a song Eames can't say he's ever heard. and it's so out of character, so clearly a way to keep himself awake, that Eames almost wants to scream because it's good. Untrained and rough but Arthur actually can sing and all Eames can do now is listen.
"We've always said that our heads were ruling. And I don't know how, but here we are."
All Eames can do now is listen, want tearing up his stomach and making his heart beat faster. Even though Arthur's thin leather coat is probably useless in the Massachusetts cold. And he's shivering, cutting up the song into chunks. And even though despite all this he still looks good, he's still standing there like a loyal dog waiting for his master, he's still—
"This I'll admit is a fine 'how-do-you-do'. But this might be 'I-discover-I'm—"
He barrels out of the car, and Arthur straightens up, cutting off the song (And a damn shame that is, he thinks). He turns, dropping the iPod into a pocket.
"Thought I'd keep you company." He joins him to face the road, arm brushing against Arthur's shoulder as he pulls out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes. "Smoke?"
Arthur shakes his head and Eames puts the pack away. "How about a little fire then?" he asks. "Nice and warm."
Arthur shakes his head. "I'm fine—" he starts to say, but the lighter catches and Eames grabs his hands, forcing them over the flame. There aren't any gloves and they're stiff and cold as ice, enough to make him tut.
"Darling, you do understand that not everywhere is LA? I would have thought you'd pack better than this. Unless you thought you'd just naturally be able to handle—"
He stops. Arthur's eyes squint up at him in that confused, puppy dog sort of way (liquor, now that would warm them up) and it's too late that he realizes his slip. 'Darling'. Hardly the first time he's ever called anyone that but probably the first time he's even thought of Arthur in such a capacity.
He'd be lying if he said he doesn't like the way it sounds.
"Don't call me that," Arthur says. But Eames can't help but notice that his hand's still technically gripping Arthur's, even though there's room to pull away without fear of being burned. That his arm, once merely brushing, now feels—along with the rest of his side—the full weight of Arthur's body, pressed against him tight.
And when Eames thinks Fuck this and kisses him, years later he'll have to point out, anytime Arthur dares to suggest that this whole mess is his fault, that his strike's upon the cheek; Arthur is the one that turns into it, lips meeting lips, as a tinny little echo of Sinatra sings:
"And just as sure as it's more than fooling.
It's quite a lot more than just a little in love."
"Jack and Diane" belongs to John Mellencamp (who once was John Cougar Mellencamp, but alas, no more).
"It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" belongs to Billy Joel.
"Cigarettes and Alcohol" belongs to Oasis.
"Margaritaville" belongs to Jimmy Buffet.
"I Can't Decide" belongs to The Scissor Sisters.
And "(At Least) A Little in Love" belongs to Frank Sinatra.
Inception, of course, belongs to Nolan, Warner Brothers, and not me.
Many thanks to Audley for being a wonderful friend and beta. Couldn't have gotten it right without you. :D