i. Hi. This is the mail-send program at .net.
I'm afraid I wasn't able to deliver your message to the following addresses.
This is a permanent error; I've given up. Sorry it didn't work out.

:
Recipient's mailbox is full, message returned to sender. (#5.2.2)

- Enclosed is a copy of the message.

- Forwarded message -
Dear Mr. Eames,

I'm sorry about earlier today. I didn't mean to seem condescending when we were planning the job, and it was inappropriate to act as such in front of the whole team.

The truth is… I've always known how intelligent and insightful you can be. I admit to it. It's just been hard to reconcile myself to the fact that, as a former rival, we can work together as team members and equals.

You know what? I'd like to make it up to you. As an apology, I would like to buy dinner for you sometime this week. Please let me know when you are free.

Sincerely,
Arthur

"So, Mr. Eames," Arthur asked, somewhat apprehensively. His words echoed hollowly in the otherwise silent warehouse. "What time do you say?"

"The time, darling, would be five past three in the afternoon," Eames replied after taking a quick glance at his pocket watch. He then returned to chewing on a toothpick and reading an engrossing article on modern military technology.

So he can read. "No, I mean when do you want to have dinner?" the impeccably-dressed young man spelled out, the discomfort he felt from the awkward situation starting to edge out his desire for workplace harmony.

"Usually around seven to eight in the evening," Eames declared, on mental autopilot as he had just reached the section detailing the marvels of grenade launchers.

Do you need it spelled out? Arthur now felt quite annoyed. He was only making amends, and this jerk wouldn't even give him the time of day. "It would be on me, you know. Anywhere you want."

"Exactly."

"What?" Arthur sighed, frustrated with what he thought to be mind games. Why, oh why do I continue to put up with his shenanigans?

"My preferred location would be on you," the Innuendo King chided, barely raising an eyebrow. His toothpick bobbed almost derisively with every syllable uttered.

"…I'm sorry I ever asked," the point man mumbled, finding his way to the exit. Now I remember why I never attempted reconciliation in the first place, he said to himself.

ii. With uncharacteristically nervous hands, Eames double-clicked on Arthur's name on his Buddy List. He'd had it there for ages but never had an excuse to chat as Arthur was never receptive of his advances, whether tasteful or flirty to the point of being corny. This time, however, he did have the valid reason of needing information on a job to begin the conversation.

Since he couldn't get his point across to Arthur in speech, Eames figured that writing would perhaps be less ambiguous a medium. He nervously began typing:

Forge56: heyyy
ArthurArmani: Hello. Who is this?
Forge56: it's Eames what r u up to?
ArthurArmani: Work, as usual. I've been doing research on the next mark.
Forge56: oh ya, Cobb said to contact u about this
ArthurArmani: Yes, we will need you to study the mark and his best friend. They are located at this address and relevant details are included.
ArthurArmani would like to send file – Lewis, Samuel -
File transfer completed.
Forge56: alright I got it. u don't need to worry about a thing darling
ArthurArmani: Such professionalism, Mr. Eames. I hope I'm impressed with the results.
Forge56: u will be I promise.
ArthurArmani: Good to hear.
Forge56: oh and one more thing
ArthurArmani: Sorry, I have to get back to work.
ArthurArmani has disconnected.
Forge56: I love u
Error while sending IM: this user is not currently logged in.

Eames sat back in his office chair in resignation. Well. It was worth a try.

iii. New Text Message from Mr. Eames: hey meet me at the Lucky Clover Pub in 1h to scope out location mark will be present

Arthur hurriedly-or as hurriedly as one could dress while maintaining a standard of perfection-put on his pinstripe jacket with the cloverleaf lapels as he prepared for the impromptu meeting at the bar. They didn't usually do last minute scoops, but Eames insisted that the best location for the extraction would be in the storage closet on site. He wanted to prove this fact and the propensity of the mark to choose this location nightly in order to select a better-suited sleeping area for the upcoming mission. Of course, Arthur placed priority on a successful mission rather than on petty politics over the earlier snub, so he agreed to check it out.

Nevertheless, Arthur's patience again ran out twenty minutes after their meeting time. If there was one thing he couldn't stand it was lack of punctuality. Oh, and loud, crowded places. The voices of dozens drowned out his train of thoughts, and he was always paranoid about ruining his expensive outfit with a drunkard's sudden misstep. He frantically wrote a text to Eames: Where are you? You're late.

Eames picked up his phone knowing exactly who was messaging him and with what. He had been stuck in a subway car for half an hour longer than expected due to an unfortunate accident on the tracks and was just barely exiting the station at this time. He zipped through the pedestrians, who glowed under the city lights, across the expansive cobblestone walkway towards his destination.

A pretty blonde in a lime green halter top, who'd been eyeing Arthur across the pub, decided to walk up and sit next to him, fueled by liquid courage. He turned to her, making eye contact, the scent of lavender, lilies, and alcohol flooding his nostrils.

"Hey," she said, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. Arthur looked around suspiciously, wondering if he would draw attention by speaking to her and whether the mark was aware of his presence. Hesitantly he greeted her in return with a formalistic air.

"I have to say I really enjoy a handsome man in a suit," the girl acknowledged, inching a bit closer on her bar stool. She set her drink right next to Arthur's and placed her arm on the counter, a bit too intrusively for his liking. She'd obviously had plenty of experience flirting in such a manner and judging by her confidence, a high rate of success.

Arthur nodded politely in thanks. Taking another glance around, he noticed a familiar figure step through the door in an obvious rush. "I'm sorry, madam. See, the person I'm meeting is-" She dove in for the kill.

Eames scanned the crowd of people, hoping to see a tall, slender fellow in designer men's wear. Contrary to what Arthur thought, this was attempt number two of Eames using work as a convenient excuse for their interaction. Sure, the bar was a great location for carrying out the mission, but the other was equally feasible. He just thought that the most private place to express his feelings would be in the middle of a cramped scene of public intoxication for the noise would drown out his anxieties.

Oh, there. Newly shined black leather loafers. A tasteful three-piece suit with a red tie over a crisp white buttoned shirt. Dark locks gelled back, not a single hair out of place. Arthur. Kissing a woman.

Wait.

Why would Arthur be making out with this person unless...

Eames felt like he'd swallowed a heavy stone, and it was sinking, destroying his insides, as the realization dawned on him. In no way would Arthur ever be interested in him, and it was just owing to luck that he hadn't been able to embarrass himself thus far with a real confession.

But he couldn't let himself be seen in this state. Turning away with watery eyes, he exited just as suddenly as he'd came.

Arthur did everything he could to gently dissuade the woman from her oral gymnastics, but she held onto him for dear life. He saw Eames out of the corner of his eye, his absolute shock, and a dejected man, slumped over in disappointment, walk out of the building.

That's when he realized something he'd previously never suspected about the charming forger.

iv. Ariadne paused for a second, pondering the morality of opening the letter that had fallen halfway into her mailbox. It wasn't technically legal, but her curiosity got the better of her.

Dear Mr. Eames,

I understand now. Why you've been acting this way for so many years. I originally took the competitive edge and need to one-up me to mean that you thought little of my abilities and potential. Then the flirting only exacerbated that assumption, and I told myself that you were mocking me for all of my flaws, which are, in my view, glaring.

But seeing you in the pub the other day, your face was an open book. There was no hostility, no ego, none of that. My unsolicited lip-lock with the strange woman aroused genuine despair that only a lover could feel as his heart was being ripped out. The unbelievable pain of unrequited love.

So, Mr. Eames, all this time your kindergarten game of cat and mouse was really a roundabout way of catching my attention. And although you flirted with everyone, your ad nauseum teasing and taunting in my case held a special meaning. I would have expected differently from you due to your boasts of countless romantic conquests, but, for some reason, I feel this may be a whole new situation altogether.

The point of all of this was to say that I understand your feelings, Mr. Eames, and that you needn't be embarrassed. ...After all, I must relate that I've had a crush on you that I've tried to brush aside since we first met back in the military days. I tried to ignore it as best I could by drowning myself in work because I took your actions to mean the opposite. Please tell me I was wrong.

I hope that we can be honest with each other from now on and start from a clean slate.

With affection,
Arthur

Ariadne bit her lip. This was one time the curiosity was going to kill the cat or at least put the cat into a difficult situation. She felt guilty about what she'd just seen and tried to quickly ponder the best resolution before someone walked into the warehouse.

If she put it in Eames' box already opened, it would look terrible, but if she gave it back to Arthur, then it would look like Eames returned it in spite. So her only visible solution was to dispose of it. Surely Arthur would realize that its contents hadn't been read and work from there?

The paper shredder happily gobbled up Arthur's good intentions.

***

Arthur couldn't focus on his work the next day, his eyes wandering off in Eames' direction. Why was there no response? He had expected a fundamental change in their relationship but for the better. Presently, it seemed that Eames had become cold and distant, an unexpected reaction... unless...

Unless Arthur had read him wrong. Maybe it was his mind changing his memories to suit his own desires or his peripheral vision was not what it used to be. And now Eames was staying clear because he wanted nothing to do with him. He felt the same crushing agony mixed with a spritz of humiliation that he'd imagined Eames feeling that night.

Eames, on the other hand, stuck his nose into a book on human mannerisms and refused to look at anyone. He didn't want anyone to see his puffy eyes and untamed mane, the unfortunate results of the worst hangover of his life and the residual disappointment from his visit to the bar.

Ariadne observed the two, lamenting her actions. But she had an idea.

v. The déjà vu sensation of being dropped into a strange setting fizzled through Eames' veins as he opened his eyes within the dream. Where am I, he wondered, scoping out the area. Newly waxed granite tile floors sparkled under counter tops, each of which boasted a teller's window. A magnificent steel safe stood in the background, gleaming with a proud smugness that only comes with complete security. It seemed to be the front lobby of the bank that the mark patronized.

Ariadne had told him the plan, but she relayed it very quickly, and Eames wasn't sure if he had full comprehension. She and Arthur were supposed to test out the dream-scape in preparation for the extraction, but at the last minute, after Arthur had already fallen asleep with the PASIV, she yelled for Eames to replace her as she'd had an emergency to attend to.

He couldn't argue, as time was vital in those seconds, and dutifully hooked himself up to the machine while Ariadne frantically mentioned details here and there, such as meeting in front of the bakery a few blocks from the bank.

Quickly the forger gathered his senses and headed through the sunny, empty streets towards the rendezvous spot. As he trudged along, his spirits still fragile from the week's events, Eames found anxiety eating at what little resolve he had left.

How would he face Arthur after what he'd seen? He felt he wore his heart on his sleeve with the amount of awkward distress that'd been brewing between the two of them, but Arthur had probably already been waiting for almost an hour in dream-time, and he couldn't be left hanging.

If only he were born the way that Arthur wanted. If only he could forge in reality what fulfilled his beloved's desires. But none of these solutions could ever come to fruition.

"Hello, Arthur."

"You aren't Ariadne..." No, it's Eames. I'm sorry that the person standing before you is never the one you want to see. He wished he could disappear. "What are you doing here?" Arthur demanded, impatiently.

Little did Eames know he had unconsciously forged the woman he'd seen at the bar. His absolute desperation and jealousy had caused him to fixate on that moment in time so that he was able to capture her essence and release it in dream-form.

"I'm sorry," Eames said, his voice cracking in an unfamiliar fashion. "I know I shouldn't be here, and I shouldn't be doing this-"

"Damn right you shouldn't. Are you even trained in this at all?" Arthur interrogated what seemed to be the blonde that frustrated his meeting with Eames.

"-but I have to tell you... I love you, Arthur. I've loved you since the very beginning. Since we first met."

"Listen, we haven't even known each other that long. And this is not an appropriate conversation for this locale."

"I know. And I know it never seemed to you that I felt so deeply, but I do. I dream about you every night when I go to sleep," Eames whispered, feeling himself blush at the sound of his words.

"Right. That's what most people would call obsession. Plus I already have someone that I love, so I'm sorry, you were too late," Arthur admitted, thinking about Eames and unable to hide the warm smile generated by such thought.

Eames nodded in defeat. I know, Arthur, that you belong to that woman. "I wish you two the best." He then turned to search for the nearest cliff to jump from.

"Thanks for taking it so well. Now can you grab Ariadne for me?"

"Anything for you, darling." And Eames stepped off the side of the level.

Arthur's eyes widened as he saw the forgery slip away at the last second.

vi. Arthur managed to wake up just as Eames grabbed his jacket, heading towards the exit of the warehouse. I can't let him slip away again. I have to confront him.

"Stop!" he yelled, as loudly as he could manage in his groggy state of semi-awareness. Eames halted in his steps and turned around to observe Arthur.

"We need to talk," Arthur explained, unhooking himself from the PASIV and rising to step in Eames' direction. "About us."

"I've already said all that I have to say," Eames replied, pretending to be extremely interested in a speck on the ground and shuffling his feet.

"I doubt that's true."

"Fine, I would like to remain friends, if that's still possible."

"Huh? Why friends?" A puzzled look sat on Arthur's expressive face as he reached Eames, standing directly in front of him.

"I didn't think you'd agree anyway."

"I apologize for the misunderstanding, Mr. Eames, but that was really not my intent."

"Which misunderstanding?"

"What? Was there more than one?"

"I-I don't even know what we're talking about anymore."

"You know, maybe we have a communication rift."

"That would be my assumption."

I'm not sure I believe much in the power of words anymore, Arthur thought, as he gave up on one oral form of expression and moved to the next.

He grabbed Eames firmly by the shoulders, craned his neck forward, and planted a tender kiss right on his eternally pouting lips. "I love you," the kiss said.

Eames was in utter shock.

Arthur. Loved. Him?

But his bursting joy soon overcame such surprise and he returned the kiss with equal fervor, as if to say, "Now I understand perfectly, darling."