Disclaimer: Inception is not mine, though I might wish that this was not the case. I duly pledge to forward all royalties to Nolan, though.
Dedication: To all those who love Arthur's style.
Note: This is my first ficlet for this fandom, and indeed my first fic for a good while. It is, sadly, un-beta'd so constructive criticism is more than welcome. At the moment this could go anywhere or nowhere so if you have any feelings about that either way you know what to do. *cough* review *cough*.
Contrary to what Eames might think, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Arthur.
For a start there was no Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
That particular chestnut had been slyly suggested when Arthur had ill-advisedly allowed the team to use his apartment as a base before a job.
Arthur had never invited anyone to his place before, not even Cobb or his wife. Maybe it was one of several places.
Arthur was as unknown to the others in the Team as his surname.
So when he had offered his apartment, casually over a coffee break as it turned out, Eames thought he had won a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka's 'good stuff'.
The job was a big one. Big fat zeros involved and, as it turned out, big fat hit men with big fat gaping holes where their consciences ought to be. Their last centre of operations, in an abandoned office block up for sale, had been riddled with bullets within days of the hit being put out on their heads.
Eames had smugly learnt that he was worth at least as much as Arthur after some gentle probing into the right channels. He told him as much.
Arthur had ignored him and spoke with his usual quiet gravity. "I've got a place we can use. Trust me, it's invisible."
"Yeah, I live there."
Cobb had nearly snorted out his Cappuccino.
He'd given them the address to memorise and trusted each to lose their tails before they arrived. He'd barely finished when the tell-tale screech of tires outside the Macdonalds Drive-Thru to which they'd temporarily re-converged alerted them to the next round of hit and run. Arthur had just straightened his tie implacably, reached for his Glock 17, and headed out the side entrance like an old-school James Bond. The impression was only slightly undermined by the garish 9-foot plastic Ronald Macdonald to his right.
"See you in all in 12 hours."
The bullets zipped past and Eames ducked for the counter.
Eames had paused in the spacious lobby, battered loafers testing the dark parquet, and looked about him, rolling his tongue against the back of his teeth in that particularly obnoxious way of his.
Even when he was grudgingly impressed.
It was the penthouse of a converted river warehouse, all clean functional modern lines and pale wintry sunlight. Arthur's clinical, corporate Dream Space created in actuality. Not a mote of dust, no evidence that it had ever contained a living occupant.
The broad windows showed no smears or smudges, just plates of transparency as perfect as though they had just had the protective plastic peeled away.
The furniture was un-rumpled, un-indented; all arranged in exact show-room formation. Every piece an antique in solid, scrolling oak. Elaborate filigree and chiselled designs supported upholstery in pale blues and greens, age-faded to only subtle hint at their former designs and whimsically incongruous with the surrounding modernity.
There was a marble bust on a white pillar, Roman, gazing blankly across the furnishings; a collection of Ottoman pistols arranged in thematic order; a Renoir (fake?) in an unwieldy golden frame simply propped against a white wall, un-hung.
They were like items in a museum, waiting to be displayed. A grandfather clock cleaved through the seconds with its heavy, rhythmic pendulum.
Tick tock tick.
Just needs some nice white dust sheets to give the place that homely feel, Eames thought to himself caustically, letting his poker chip fan across his knuckles and back again, and maybe those Dr Who Weeping Angels coming out of the cupboards.
Arthur might well come from another planet, he decided and took his time during the meeting to slip off and pry into the rest of the flat.
Eames prided himself on being nothing less than a keen observer of his fellow man – an anthropologist, if you will.
A prying shit, Arthur might well have contributed at this juncture in his usual humourless way.
The sleek galley kitchen, where the stainless steel utensils hung limply from their size-ordered hooks, showed no evidence of life: no food, no cupboard doors ajar, no coffee rings on the countertops; no morning's washing up abandoned in the sink. It was like a forensic team had swabbed it down for prints.
Eames paused on the steps for a moment as the sound of quiet voices drifted up from below and someone's nasal asinine laugh echoed briefly off the parquet. He identified the originator as Yuri, another forger they'd picked up for the job, to play one of some tycoon's twin sons in a double-cross. He was an obnoxious, arrogant prat of a man who liked the sound of his own voice and smoking vile Sobranies imported from London. And this was Eames' opinion, so God knows what the others thought. But then Yuri had stumbled upon the hidden gem that was teasing their resident stick-in-the-mud of a Point Man and Eames had almost warmed to him. Almost.
He tried to imagine for a moment Arthur down below, scowling, forehead corrugated as he tried to unpick the inevitable insult, and grinned to himself as he continued up.
The bedroom, tucked away on an open mezzanine, was a poster for masculine good taste in aged wood and burgundy. But the bed could have been wrapped in plastic, too, for all that it looked used. No head indent on the pillow, no ripple in the bedspread to indicate a rapid smoothing out. All four corners were tucked and pressed and folded as crisply as a Savoy table napkin. Eames even checked for a pillow chocolate and directions to the mini-bar. The heavy silver candlestick on the nightstand held a single, slender, un-burnt taper. No alarm clock, no open book, no discarded clothes. The oriental rug was at perfect right angles, the ornate chest the same.
Eames tried to restrain himself from opening the closet door, he really did, but the results were good enough to make his toes curl in glee.
The suits were there.
All of them, like an anally-retentive's wet dream, arranged in colours, neatly pressed and crisply sheathed in flimsy plastic on their wooden hangers. Browns, charcoals, blacks and dove greys, pinstripes and wool-mixes, shirts from white through ivory to cream in starched regiments. Waistcoats hung in their impeccable two-tone legions, trousers – cigarette thin in their Burlington cut - and the ties, oh the ties… Eames couldn't resist running one exquisite silk filament through his fingers before releasing it to nestle back amongst its slender peers. Braces on the back of the door, shoes buffed to a sheen at the bottom including a pair of camel spats that wouldn't have looked out of place on Johnny Dillinger.
His own movement in a heavy mirror, again propped carelessly against the wall in its gilded frame, caused Eames to pause and catch sight of himself, caught red-handed by his own reflection.
He shifted uncomfortably for a moment, revealed in his wrinkled linen and garish silk paisley, feeling like a vagabond fingering the crown jewels. But then he remembered himself, squaring his shoulders, his battered but highly polished loafers peeking out of his oversized trousers like signposts for the quintessential self-effacing English gent on his grand tour. His distaste for the American's slick perfectionism returned full force and he slid home the closet door with careless force.
Last was the bathroom. Eames had got as far as noticing the toothbrushes were still in their hotel plastic and the soap still sporting a crest, when someone discretely cleared their throat behind him, nearly provoking a heart palpitation.
"Are you lost?" The baritone was dry.
Eames forced himself to turn casually, hopefully removing any kid-who-has-been-caught-with-his-fingers-in-the-cookie-jar expression as he did so. Arthur was leaning against the door-frame, arms folded, eyebrow arched. The light glanced across his slick hair.
Eames didn't skip a beat, "No need, darling, no need; just looking for the loo." He turned on the tap for good measure and made an ostentatious show of washing his hands with the un-touched lather before dabbing his fingers dry on a fluffy towel. The smell of Penthaligon's cologne drifted between them and Eames took a moment to recognise it as the crest on the soap. Expensive stuff. English, he noted with a twinge of renewed smugness.
Arthur's impassive face betrayed nothing, but his tone was decidedly unimpressed. "Well, we've made some progress downstairs. So, whenever you feel ready to rejoin us…?"
He straightened and departed. The parquet creaked gently under his weight. Eames followed and did his level best not too look even slightly abashed. He made sure to kick up a corner of the throw rug as he went past, quite unashamedly.
Cobb looked up from his architect's blueprint, clearly amused, as the pair returned to the group. Mal had draped herself on a chaise-longue near enough to slip a perfectly pedicured foot free from her skyscraper sling-backs and wind a toe affectionately into the hair at the nape of her husband's neck. She wore that look of quiet intensity that was becoming increasingly frequent and no less disconcerting, as though she was looking right through you to something invisible and privately amusing behind your back. "Ah, the prodigal son returns." Her voice was like a chill in the room, a low predatory purr, but Cobb laughed easily anyway.
Obliviously, Eames thought.
Eames exchanged a furtive glance with Arthur and was pleased to see that whatever he sensed was wrong with Mal had, at least, not escaped the Point Man's attention. Arthur's habitual scowl only deepened.
Arthur opened his mouth to say something - whether about himself or Mal's provocative behaviour, Eames couldn't be sure but either way considered it worth preventing – so cut across him with a smooth clap of his hands, slouching onto a sofa with such expert inelegance and arrogant splaying of legs that his trousers pulled dangerously at the knees.
"Yes, yes – sorry for holding up the party, chaps. I know this little dream team simply grinds to a halt without me. Didn't know our boy Arthur here was so damned OCD it would take me twenty minutes to locate the lavvie."
See? Who said Eames couldn't be tactful?
Arthur's jaw tightened dangerously and a vein was starting to jump at his jaw, an habitual tell that meant the sour puss would never make more than a half decent poker player. Eames would ordinarily have been smug about that if Yuri's whiney bray hadn't soured the victory.
God, that man laughed like a diarrheic donkey.
Arthur meticulously lifted his trousers at the knees, a silent sartorial reproach in itself, or so Eames thought, before perching on the arm rest stiffly. "I am not obsessive compulsive". His tone was clipped.
"Of course you're not, darling. That explains the real injection of personality you've leant the décor. The asymmetrical dust mote whirling above the landing was a particularly tasteful touch."
"Shut up, Eames – we've got a job to do." That was Cobb, ever to the rescue. As though poor baby Arthur hadn't taken more than his fair share of bullets. Or Eames' jibes for that matter.
Eames ignored him as usual, "The kitchen looks like a morgue, old thing."
Arthur's frown was less measured than his voice, defensive. "I'm… not here a lot."
Well that was fair enough. Eames nodded encouragingly and not at all condescendingly. "Ah." Silence descended like a snowscape.
Cobb looked between them, seemingly assessing whether or not any further white-knighting was necessary, before coughing and turning back to the plans. Mal was still smiling her predatory smile that sent shivers up his spine.
Arthur bent his dark, slick head over a dense page of his tight, spiky calligraphy and started to fill Eames in on the technicalities of the timing.
The pendulum continued to part the cool air with its heavy inertia.
Tock tick tock.
No, clearly there was nothing wrong with Arthur.
Note: Previously, this was the first chapter. Hope it wasn't too self-indulgent.