Dear Friends or Family or Colleagues or Friends
From his chair, Arthur raises a hand, cutting Dom off before he even really starts. "Wait, why are you telling me the options you're not using?"
Dom lowers the paper. Takes a seat on the the opposite side of the desk and shrugs. "In case you wanted a different word," he said. "That's why I brought this." He tapped a pen on the paper, frowning when a bit of ink caught page. "To make changes."
Arthur leaned back, letting the chair shift to two legs. " . . . Changes to my specifications. For some reason."
From the back door of the warehouse, Eames laughs. Says, "Now, Arthur, be nice. Don't you agree, Ariadne?"
Arthur interrupts. He doesn't bother to look at Eames but everyone knows the tone, as he grits out, "I just don't get why the hell—"
Wadded up paper hits him square in the neck and he doesn't even need to hear Ariadne's giggle to know the source. "Fine. Go, Cobb."
"Great. Okay: Dear Those in Attendance—"
"Wait, don't use that, it sounds too formal."
"I don't know, darling, I think I like it. It suits."
Another giggle, and Arthur sighs. "Just go, we'll figure it out later."
"Thanks. So: Dear . . . someone,
"I'm not really any good at speeches. I know this might seem a little strange, to some of you. My children will probably say I'm lying, but it's true. What comes out, in the heat of the moment because someone's done something wrong, isn't a speech to me. It's something I say to you—something personal. Or if I'm talking about a job—that's an announcement, or a sales pitch. It deserves to be impersonal—it has to be. But a real speech, talking about someone or something in an attempt to inform, has never been one of my strengths.
"So, when Eames asked me to—
"Wait, Eames asked you to write this?"
Dom stops again. "Yeah," he says. Like it's obvious, and Arthur hears the threat in that but it's to late to stop him before he goes on and says,
"For your wedding."
Eames isn't even looking but the crash of chair on floor gives him the gist, and he cackles.
This was how they met.
Arthur was twenty in body and forty-five in mind. He drank below the age limit but never more than a meticulously calculated BAC level would allow; he owned jeans but normally wore trousers and a button-down with a tie in a Windsor knot, a vest coming and going depending on the weather; and rather than finish out his years as a top-tier Yale student, he was wanted in Germany for mind crime (his then-extractor's fault, not his own—Arthur was neither then nor later a man to get caught).
Eames was twenty-two, and loved it. He still drank with the best of the sixteen year old boarding school brats, even years after leaving their ranks, and though romantically speaking he was by nature a one person sort of man, he had enjoyed many persons in a string (more girls than boys but really, he wasn't particular). His clothing never matched but it wasn't entirely from lack of taste. A rising forger didn't have time to waste in the mornings worrying whether red went with green (though, if he were honest, he didn't give a shit).
(And, well, it was the clothes that first got Arthur's attention, as he'd admit later in a drunken stay over in Buenos Aires. The clothes, mismatched paisley and corduroy jeans, was what forced Arthur to spend the better part of pre-meeting idle chatter wondering how anyone could be so blind and vain at the same time. So, frankly, he still didn't give a shit—his outfit worked for him.)
That said, the conversation itself was as normal as they came:
But as Eames would later lecture (often, to the point that Arthur thought he could just record it and set the tape to play randomly throughout the week for the same effect), the devil was in the details when it came to human interaction. People never meant what they said and never said what they meant—truth lay only in a flick of an eyebrow, a drop of the mouth, a glance to the side when they heard a trigger word. It was the truth they remembered, years later—not the job or the bar or the wine they ordered (Eames ordered, Arthur didn't drink on the job).
They only remembered:
'. . . Well, damn.'
'Please be Arthur.'
'Oh, Christ, that's Eames?'
"You can't just tell people we're getting married," Arthur says when Eames finally finishes laughing long enough to breathe. He grins, coming in for a kiss that Arthur denies with a backpedal.
"Why not? Two birds, one hilarious stone."
Ariadne picks up where Eames left off, bursting out in laughter that Arthur's glare can't silence. Even Dom, crossing past to take her to the back of the warehouse, just barely hides his grin, and Arthur's realizes that next time he has to shoot them in a dream, it's going to be just that much easier.
"I don't know," he says, forcing himself to keep his attention on Eames. "Maybe because that's the kind of thing you talk about with me?"
Eames nods. "Fine. I can do that then." He rakes his hair back in hopes of suaveness and drops to one knee, throwing out his arm like he's reciting Shakespeare.
"Not now, not ever."
And with a leap over Eames' knee, Arthur's gone.
This was how they worked their first job.
Arthur was still twenty. On this job, he was both point man and architect. He insisted himself—the extractor's usual man was too flighty for his taste, he said point-blank, and the job was simple. He could handle both at once without much fuss.
Eames was still twenty-two. He was still a forger, albeit one who, while instrumental, didn't have a whole lot to do beyond one key moment in their little charade for a sentimental oil tycoon. So, with the new bounds of free time he found, he fussed where Arthur wouldn't. Small things, like:
"You look tired, Arthur."
"Funny how that works, since I'm not."
"No, really; I can see the shadows under your eyes. Just ghastly."
"I'm fine, Mr. Eames. Go to bed."
But bigger ones too, like:
"You seem too young for this rousing life of crime. Just how old are you, Arthur?"
"I don't really see how that's any of your business."
" . . . I meant the other meaning, but good to know that you can actually make a joke."
And so it went, until they took off from the airport after a job well done, in planes marked for different lands; and the first impression, perfect and entire as a rock untouched by wind or rain, remained. If anything, it strengthened, till the truth was:
'I think I'm in love.'
'You don't dress that obnoxiously unless you have the attitude to carry it.'
"Why would you even think we were getting married?"
"Have you been waiting to ask me that all day?"
Yes, Arthur thinks, of course, but he knows better than to admit it, even in the safety of Dom's own living room. There's too much amusement value at stake here, and if even the tiniest hint of his discomfort gets back to Eames, he'll never hear the end of it. "We've only been dating for a year," he reminds. "If you can call it that."
"Mal and I only dated for six months before we got married."
"Yeah, but you knew each other for—" And Arthur stops. He sinks down into the sofa cushions with a grimace. It's entirely the wrong thing to say and as Dom smiles, a smug little half-grin, Arthur knows he's doomed himself.
"And how long have you guys known each other?"
" . . . Ten years," he grits out.
"So, more than Mal and I knew each other for?"
Arthur looks away, just for a second, hand jumping to his die on instinct. He knows he's awake, that's not the problem. He can recount every agonizing second of What the hell What the hell WHAT THE HELL on the car ride over here, every second of What was Cobb THINKING as he strode a path through the floor of his hotel room, every second of No, I'm not looking at you when he finally did have to go back to the warehouse earlier today and Eames tried to get his attention. But if he can just roll a die and land on a four, he might even consider actually marrying Eames if that's what he needs to do to wipe this day from memory. "That's not the point," he says, when his brain finally regroups.
"But you can see how the thought wouldn't be strange, right?"
"No." And because it isn't already immediately apparent for some reason, he adds, "It's Eames. That thought will always be strange."
But Dom just keeps on smiling. "That was mostly why I bought it."
. . . Okay. Time to get out of here, he thinks, rising off the couch. He throws on his suit jacket, buttoning it up in record speed. "Hug your kids for me. Maybe some of their intelligence will rub off on you."
Dom laughs. "Look, I really am sorry. But can I ask? Just one thing."
I'm going to regret this, he thinks, but he looks at Dom and though the glare is anything but inviting, it's permission enough.
"Why is it messing with your head so much?"
And because it isn't immediately apparent for some reason, he says:
"Because it's Eames."
Dom sighs, but stands and walks Arthur to the door. He's almost off the step (home free) before Dom pulls him back, shoving a piece of paper in his hand, "Take the speech, Arthur"
"Maybe it'll help."
"So would a colonoscopy, but I'm not signing up for one of those."
He hands the paper back but Dom just shakes his head. "Keep it," he says.
"Go to hell, Cobb."
This was how they had their first fight.
Arthur was twenty-six, Eames was twenty-nine, and in the back of their minds, they were both highly impressed they had made it this far not only without killing each other but also without any actual argument. They bantered and squabbled but after a few jobs of that, it became normal conduct, if outside the one they used for everyone else. It felt right, for them. But it really had been only a matter of time:
"Well, if you ask me, it worked for the best in the end, darling."
"One: don't call me that. Two: getting thrown out of a hotel for starting a two alarm fire because you were trying to have your way with the manager's daughter—"
"I was not trying to have any way with the daughter. The fire, yes, Arthur, I should have stopped that, but the girl started it and she's clearly just trying to throw the blame on me—"
"Blame you earned. By trying to nail her."
"Good to know you think so little of me, love."
"It's not thinking when I'm right!"
But he wasn't. Neither of them were, as with most arguments (especially between them, and after the first there were plenty of them). People never said what they meant, even if every so often, when tension coiled in like a snake ready to bite, they meant what they said. Because the truth of the matter was something more like:
'You don't get that I love you, do you?'
'Only an asshole could stand to dress like that.'
It's just paper, Arthur tells himself. Just a thin, 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper, folded in half. Just unfold it. Unfold it and read it and . . .
He shoves the speech aside to the passenger seat and takes out his phone, not even processing really until he's dialed the final number that he's calling Ariadne. She picks up on the second ring and barely has time to say 'Hello' before he's jumping in with:
"What did Eames tell you?"
"What makes you think he told me anything?"
"Eames talks. All the time. And since I'm not talking to him and he's not talking to Cobb, that leaves you."
". . . Okay, touché. Well, he's a little sorry."
"Well, he's also a little not. Okay, mostly not."
". . . Neither of these things are helpful, Ariadne."
"Well, what do you want me to say?" He hears a man's voice in the background. Then a woman's. Then another woman's, a man's, then a horrifyingly familiar orchestral piece from a show he didn't even realize they played stateside and is she really channel surfing right now when I have an actual goddamned problem here? "Personally speaking, I'm still surprised this is even bothering you," she continues, and even though she's not there to see it, his eyebrows furrow up.
"Of course I'm bothered. It's . . . bothersome that I don't have any control over my personal life."
"Well, maybe you're thinking about this the wrong way."
"And just what do you recommend?"
There's a pause, and he can see her in his head: chewing her lip or thumbing her hand over the cell phone, trying to think and needing the action to really focus. "Mal said something to me," she says, "back during the Fischer job. Well, her shade did. She asked me if I knew what it felt like to be a lover. One half of a whole."
He grips a hand around the steering wheel. Feels the leather knead into his skin as he clenches tighter. "And your point?"
"Just maybe, you should think about it. If you know what it feels like to be half of a whole."
" . . . Wasn't Mal also trying to kill you at the time?"
"You're really going to look at her for what I should do right now?"
"Good. Night. Arthur."
I'm not really any good at speeches. I know this might seem a little strange, to some of you. My children will probably say I'm lying, but it's true. What comes out, in the heat of the moment because someone's done something wrong, isn't a speech to me. It's something I say to you—something personal. Or if I'm talking about a job—that's an announcement, or a sales pitch. It deserves to be impersonal—it has to be. But a real speech, talking about someone or something in an attempt to inform, has never been one of my strengths.
So, when Eames asked me to be best man at his wedding, I started early. I thought it would take me forever. I knew it couldn't be a speech. The best I could do was a letter, to you. But I still thought it would be difficult. I still thought there wasn't any one way I could really describe Arthur and Eames. And in fairness, they aren't easily described, other than contradictory. They're private, and they're public. They're friends, and they're rivals. They know everything about each other, and nothing at all. Put them in a room together and you're never really sure what exactly will happen, other than that it'll be extraordinary. They bicker and they flirt and they talk at each other at a million words a minute. And I know this for a fact—I usually just let them run and tire themselves out, because it's not like anything I say will matter.
And then, that's when I realized—
Arthur puts the paper down and watches the mix of cloud and black where somewhere, just out of sight, he knows there are stars.
This lasts a second before he thinks, Fuck, and picks it up again. He folds the paper over and over, unfolding it all back and starting again when ever it's too small to go on, and the phone rings. And rings. And rings. Until there's the click of a connection and a ruffle of fabrics and a voice muddied up from sleep says, "Arthur, I'm going to kill you."
". . . You're . . . you were actually sleeping." It's point of fact, very simple, but his hands stop pressing in the crease and all he can think is, Thank God Eames can't see me right now.
He hears the groan, first, as Eames mumbles something British and vulgar. "That is what most people do, around this time, when they're not driving around like a nutter."
"I'm outside the apartment."
"Well, then, come to bed."
"—I'll even apologize if you want. I'm sorry for the joke. Now, just come to bed—"
"Wait." And against all odds, Eames does (albeit with a groan), and Arthur thinks fast. "Did you read this?"
"Cobb's . . . thing."
"No, I didn't."
Hmm. He finishes the crease. Lets it sit between his fingers, fold coming out to a V without the right pressure, as Eames coughs.
"Wait. When you made that joke," he says in a rush, "what was the point?"
The silence drags on and Arthur lets the paper drop. Watches it spring out into an earlier fold, unable to hold.
"—I'm not talking about this on the bloody phone. Come in."
And Arthur does.
This was how they worked their last job.
Arthur was twenty-nine. Eames was thirty-two. Their hotels were within three blocks from each other and while they never carpooled or planned it, they ended up sharing breakfast at a small family-owned cafe on the bottom level of the parking garage between them. Arthur ordered coffee (two sugars, no cream) while Eames had water (caffeine, he said, ruined him more than it helped, though he always ended up taking the first sip from Arthur's to make sure the barista did it right). They'd order two sandwiches but Eames would end up devouring both, Arthur usually having already snagged some fruit from his room. They left separately and arrived at the warehouse a good fifteen minutes apart (what crazy route Eames was taking, Arthur didn't know—it seemed wrong that in London of all places, he was the one finding the best shortcut to work), but their desks were across from each other so in a way, it was as if they'd never left the tiny little fold-up table with the coffee rings ironically painted on the steel.
They never spoke about it much. Oh, they talked about the weather and sports and the benefits of a compound twice the price than the one they were using but potentially able to help them regain natural dreaming. But they never really said anything, and so it was again in the details (a knock of an elbow, a kick of a foot, a stolen sip of water seen but ignored) to say what two weeks and a first date later they would know:
'I'm not a man to stay the same, but I could stand to have another morning like this if it's with you, darling.'
'At some point, I swear I'm going to raid your closet and fix this myself.'
Eames is a slow reader. Or Arthur is a fast one. Either way, he's antsy like he never is, sitting across the table with a teacup that keeps threatening to scald his hand if he holds too tight as Eames pores over the speech. When he finally puts it down with a grin, Arthur feels like an eternity has come and gone, and even he's willing to admit the bite in his voice isn't fair as he asks, "Well? Are you proud of yourself?"
"I think it's a lovely speech."
"That's not the point."
"Of course not." He leans back, stretching his arms as he yawns. "That'd be far too easy."
"Did you want this?" Arthur fires, quick as a bullet.
"What, for the joke?"
Eames shrugs. Scratches the back of his neck and slaps on a grin. "You really shouldn't take this so seriously, Arthur," he says, and it's so casual Arthur could almost believe it, if he wanted. If it wasn't for the way Eames doesn't really look at him, a tell-tale sign even this late at night when Eames can barely keep his eyes open long enough to really look at anything.
So Arthur asks, "Do you actually mean it?"
Because even when Eames lies, he never can keep it up for long. Not for things like this.
" . . . I wouldn't be against it, no."
It's Arthur's only thought, and he's not surprised that something of it comes through in his face, as Eames smirks. "But," he adds, letting his arms hand loose as he stands, "if you're not into it, that's fine too."
Arthur opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it and starts, "That's not . . ." before it falls shut again. He tries, "I mean . . ." but when that attempt fails Eames kisses him, pulling him up with a firm hand.
"Come to bed, love. We can't all be the marrying kind."
And Arthur does, but he can't stop himself from thinking, But I didn't think you'd be it.
This was how they first kissed.
Arthur was thirty. Eames was thirty two. Arthur initiated, because he'd spent ten years trailing behind and he wasn't any good at that. It was nothing special—a peck over coffee, like this was just what they did, and the conversation they had afterwards was as normal as they came.
Not that what they said mattered. The devil as always was in the details: the way Arthur's eyes flickered back to Eames' mouth when he talked, the way the poker chip flew from finger to finger in the hand Eames kept hidden under the table. It was the truth they remembered, years later—the kiss and what the thoughts swirling in their head:
'. . . Well, damn.'
'Interesting outfit. Now how do I get it off?'
"If we got married," said Arthur, eyes still fixed on the ceiling even in the dark, "what would it be like?"
Eames' hand twitched, pausing in its walk over Arthur's stomach. It's just for a second though, and soon enough the fingers are stepping again as Eames just says, an odd lilt in his voice, " . . . Well, can't say that until we try it, now can I, love?"
"That's all you're getting."
"And I'll take it." Eames hand completes the journey and pulls Arthur close, locking him tight against him.
". . . Can I decide when we tell people?"
"Good night, Arthur."
And then, that's when I realized that's really it. Them in their essence. Nothing I say does matter. Nothing anyone says matters. Arthur and Eames love each other. And hate each other.
But it's always each other.
SUPER MEGA COLLOSAL THANKS TO AUDLEY . SHE'S IN CHARGE OF MY DAYS AND MY NIGHTS. NO, I DIDN'T WATCH CHARLES IN CHARGE AND NEITHER DID SHE PROBABLY, BUT IT'S TRUE.
Oh, and Inception is not mine.
AND THANK YOU TO THE ORIGINAL PROMPTER, RAVENSPEAR! I'M SORRY IT TOOK FOREVER AND A DAY.