This was written for foxxcub for the eames_arthur Valentine Exchange on LJ.
Disclaimer: I do not own Inception!
Warning: Read at your own risk. XD
He told himself he could have lived with it if their last conversation had been different.
"I'm running again," said Eames, leaning against the rail of the Millennium Bridge and staring out at the Thames. He looked as gray and worn as the clouds above and Arthur wondered if he'd been sick. "These days I'm always running from something." He shook his head. "One day I'm going to stop. I'm sure that will only end badly."
"You don't sound like yourself," Arthur remarked, and he stepped closer so that he and Eames were almost shoulder-to-shoulder, an invisible tension between them. "Did something happen?"
Truthfully, Arthur didn't care. Truthfully, Arthur was here on business and he was going to be late and it was only chance that he ran into Eames on the way to the Tate to meet his client.
Eames hesitated, said "Arthur, I-" and then seemed to think better of it. It was a long time before he spoke again and Arthur restrained himself from checking his watch, if only because they had worked together so many times before. "I'm just tired," Eames finally sighed. "Have you… been dreaming lately?"
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "That is my job, Mr. Eames."
Eames scowled, but he soon covered it with a neutral mask. "That's not what I meant. Natural dreams, Arthur. Nightmares, maybe?"
"That isn't any of your business, is it?" Arthur gave him a flat look.
No, he didn't dream any more.
"I suppose it isn't," said Eames, and straightened. "But I've kept you long enough. I can see you're busy."
"I am," said Arthur, like a fool. "But we should meet for coffee- or tea, if you prefer. Maybe on Wednesday?" Eames nodded to this and Arthur started walking away, hurrying forward toward his next paycheck.
Three days later, Eames was gone. Erased.
"This shouldn't be my job," Arthur murmured, but still he turned the key in his old Accord and drove onto the highway, heading for the airport.
The first place Arthur looked was Eames's London flat. He knew that Eames wouldn't be there; it was too obvious, too easy to find… though perhaps it still contained some clue as to where the forger had gone. Arthur had never been to the flat before, but he knew Eames hadn't used it just as a safehouse – if nothing else, the welcome mat just inside the door told him so when he finished picking the lock.
The interior was nothing like he pictured it would be. He expected an easy elegance, antiques in dark wood and paneling on the walls. Eames, if nothing else, was cultured. He came from old money, or so Arthur had discovered during his first background check, and should therefore decorate like it. Arthur supposed this was a prejudice retained from his own rather humble beginnings. In any case, Eames had thoroughly broken the mold: The walls were not paneled but painted brightly in shades of red and gold and cream, matching each other pleasantly like Eames's colorful wardrobe always did. The floors were carpeted inexpensively, except for the kitchen, which sported blue and white tiles in a traditional checkered pattern. The flat was tidy and clean, well-lit, and homey. There was no television, though a computer of indeterminate age took up the center of Eames's desk in the study, screen flat black, turned off for who knew how long. Arthur would be booting it up eventually, but he steered clear of it for the moment. He was more interested in the books.
The books. There were probably hundreds of them, lined up neatly on the ubiquitous shelves, organized – as far as Arthur could tell – alphabetically by subject and author. Topics ranged from fiction to biography, from textbooks to cookbooks to an illustrated collection of fairy tales in a well-worn binding. He could hardly wrap his mind around the variety of them all, running his fingers lightly over beloved spines. Though Eames had not been to university, it appeared his education had been far from lacking. Arthur felt a stab of guilt remembering how often he had attributed Eames's cleverness to luck.
"Clearly, I never really knew you at all," he said to the silence, and started over from the beginning.
The computer, when he did turn it on, was almost completely blank. Everything had been wiped clean, all possible evidence destroyed. The only thing left was a Word document hidden within the list of standard programs. It contained a series of dates, the earliest in 2022, the latest in 2031. Arthur couldn't make sense of them, but he copied them into his Moleskine diligently.
"Do you still dream?" Arthur asked Ariadne, one year after Eames had vanished into the heart of England like a ghost. He could hear over the phone line that she was not at home; voices and laughter rolled in and out like waves when she wasn't speaking. He wondered if she was out with friends or if she was alone, drinking and dancing her way through the lives of strangers.
"Sometimes," she replied, and he could see her shrugging, for a moment, as if she were right in front of him, her hair still long like it had been when they'd first met. "Mostly it's just like I'm watching my memories. I dream about making mazes a lot." There was a burst of static and a clink that might have been glasses. "Why do you ask?"
"Just curious." He shifted in the uncomfortable hotel armchair and looked out the window at green trees turning black in the twilight.
"I used to dream I was flying," said Ariadne, wistful. "I would wheel above great cities and see all these buildings that I was going to build. They were always fuzzy, indistinct. Now they don't have to be."
"Right." Arthur paused. His dreams had never been so… bright. Instead, they had often been quite violent. He told himself they had never happened. "Do you think they meant anything?"
Again, static, and Ariadne laughing at a joke he couldn't hear. She came back slightly breathless. "I don't know. Not like Freud anyway. But I remember feeling happy."
Arthur smiled. "Yeah." That would have been nice.
"Where are you?" Ariadne asked, distracted.
"In the States, between jobs."
"Well, you can always come visit me in Paris, if you're bored."
Ariadne laughed again, and he thought she might hang up on him, but the noise on the other end quieted, as if she had moved to another room. "Arthur," she asked, "What do you dream about?"
Arthur dreamed of Eames.
Warm light, buttery and smooth, spilled into the warehouse through the skylights, tinting the whole space golden. It almost made Arthur forget how cold it was outside – and inside; the heat had not yet been turned on in the building, and the team had to make do with space heaters placed by each desk. Ariadne's desk was empty (somehow he knew it was hers, though she hadn't been with them in Heidelberg for this job), and so was Richard's, but Eames was hunched over in his chair, deeply focused. He was swathed in a shapeless old bomber jacket, the fur at the neck matted and thin, a reminder of how tasteless he could be when he felt like it. He also looked ten times warmer than Arthur felt in his own nicely-tailored gray pea coat.
"What are you working on?" Arthur asked, just to break the silence, and he was standing in front of Eames though he hadn't lifted a foot.
"Just a little extra project," the man replied, not looking up, his bare hands busy with a pen and paper. "A lost sketch by Honore Daumier, if you must know," Arthur recalled him saying on that wintry afternoon, and Eames had shown him the rough lines of a woman bundled up in a travelling cloak. He had recognized it as an approximation of The Third Class Carriage and sighed. This time Eames glanced up at him and covered the paper with his hands.
Arthur didn't need to see it to know it was a map.
"I'm going away for a while," Eames said slowly, as if he had come up with the idea on the spot. "Just a little while."
"You've already been gone for a year," Arthur replied, but he couldn't speak loud enough to be heard.
In a bar beside the Neckar River, Arthur drank a rum and coke that tasted faintly of cigarettes. Eames came up behind him and kissed him on the cheek, pressing soft lips lightly to the corner of his chin, right where it met his ear. Arthur didn't turn to look at him.
"What does it matter to you?" His voice sounded like Mal's, though deeper and somehow sharper, the accent from across the English Channel.
"You impressed me with your work in Reims," Arthur explained. These were the first words he had ever spoken to Eames, calling from a pay phone as Dom looked on. "I have a job for you." They had exchanged names and money later, on a ferry boat. Arthur couldn't remember much about the encounter; he'd woken up hazy and sick without his wallet and a note telling him to be wary of shrimp in the future.
Eames smiled. "You always impress me, Arthur." He reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and handed Arthur a letter. "This is for you."
"Thank you," said Arthur.
He woke up before he could read it.
"You're wasting your time here," came Yusuf's voice from ahead of him, sounding muffled in the closeness of the hallway. "He hasn't been here in months, maybe longer. Hell, I don't know." He threw up his hands, making Arthur have to back up to avoid being hit. "I wasn't expecting to see him again. Or you, either. You're all lunatics."
"So you said." Arthur ran a handkerchief across his forehead and neck, wiping away the sweat that was a constant irritation. "I appreciate you doing this."
Yusuf sighed and unlocked Eames's apartment with the copied keys that must have been given to him before the Fischer inception, the job that had brought them all together. "I see you reaching for your checkbook, Arthur," he said to the door. "Don't bother. Hey, maybe we can get a drink this afternoon? For old time's sake."
"Sure. I'd like that." The memory of Yusuf's betrayal had not faded, but Arthur was a firm believer in maintaining useful relationships. And yet he could recall no faces, no friends, from his time before the military. Besides, on his own, Yusuf was not dangerous. Arthur took the keys and reached out to shake the man's hand. It was dry and smooth in his, spotted with the yellow stains that were the evidence of his work. "What time do you close?"
"For you? Five thirty."
"I'll swing by the shop then."
"Karibu." Arthur let Yusuf past him and waited until he had gone down the stairs to enter the apartment. It was less well-kept than the one in London – smaller, darker – but no less full of books. Joining the myriad volumes, however, were stacks of paper spread across the floor, the shaky coffee table, even the chairs. Arthur sifted through one of the piles, but couldn't read the documents, which were printed entirely in Swahili. The only words he recognized were those he had memorized from an airplane travel guide: days, places, references to cash. One of Eames's aliases – Daniel Lewis – appeared frequently atop the pages. Arthur set them aside for later perusal.
He next walked through the tiny living room and into the kitchen. The floor was wooden, but there was a round rug in the center, stained with what was probably tea. Magnets on the fridge made a smiley face with one eye; the other had slipped out of place pinning a receipt for a lamp to the avocado-colored surface. Arthur was surprised to find dishes left out beside the sink, some still unwashed. It didn't seem like Eames, who had always been clean when they ate in the warehouse. Arthur began to get the feeling that the Mombasa apartment had been quickly abandoned.
"What were you thinking?" he asked the empty air, throwing open the sliding doors to the balcony, breathing in the scents of baking dirt, food, and air pollution. Cheerful cries rose up from the street below: women shouting about their goods in the street market to all who walked by, young children playing around the legs of their elders. Brilliant hues abounded, glittering and flashing in the intense sunlight. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Though Arthur disliked the heat, he was growing decidedly fond of the city. He felt a sudden stab of regret for what Eames had left behind. He felt a sudden exhilaration. The heat was so familiar.
Returning inside, Arthur went through a thin doorway into the bedroom. The twin-sized bed was unmade, its white cotton sheets heavily rumpled. A light quilt in purple and green lay on the floor to one side, still somewhat folded, as if it had recently been perched at the foot of the bed. The rest of the minimal amount of furniture was similarly unremarkable, though Arthur inspected it just the same. The dresser drawers were full of summer clothes, neatly pressed, the desk empty of interesting material. The closet contained three or four bespoke three-piece suits, though Arthur had never seen Eames in a waistcoat. None of the suits were anything approaching sober in color. He was slightly envious; as an American he was limited to blues, grays, blacks – colors the public found suitable for a working man. Europe was not so close-minded.
Only one thing in the bedroom really grabbed his attention: the drawer of Eames's bedside table was locked. Arthur made short work of it with a bent paperclip and a little patience; soon he was sorting through the contents. There was an elastic-bound stack of photographs, mostly of green scenery, though Eames appeared in several of them. He was younger, perhaps still in his twenties – the photos were certainly taken before Arthur had first known him. By then Eames had already looked serious, seldom smiling genuinely.
Every time Eames smiled at him, Arthur wanted to stop him. It was confusing. Arthur couldn't stand to be confused.
Under the stack of photos there was an old newspaper clipping, dated July 14th, 2022, from The Guardian. In cold black type it recounted the life and death of one Perry Haversham, a young man who had gone to school at Eton College – Oxford after that – and had had a "promising future" ahead of him. He had been killed only a week ago, aged 25 years, at the time of the article. An unknown gunman had apparently broken into his home. The cause of death was two bullet wounds to the chest and (gleaned from a note with the article scribbled in Eames's cramped penmanship) one shot to the testicles.
In the opposite corner, there lay an envelope addressed simply to James.
Arthur let his fingers hover over it, warring with himself, but in the end he left it alone. It was dated more than a decade ago. He felt it probably had nothing to do with Eames's disappearance.
"Yes, I'll have another," Yusuf shouted to the bartender, more miming the request than anything else. The order was received with a brilliant flash of white teeth and a thumbs-up, so Arthur supposed it had been understood. He was still nursing his second gin and tonic, partly in a desire to save his voice, partly in a desire to save his senses. Eames's apartment had proved insightful into the forger's life but entirely unhelpful in Arthur's quest to find him. Getting drunk may have been an appropriate emotional response, but was inconducive to planning his next move.
"Are you really searching for him?" Yusuf asked, startling him out of his thoughts. "Because I'm pretty sure he can take care of himself. He's been gone before."
"He has," Arthur agreed, taking a sip of his drink. After the Middleton job, Eames had fallen off the radar for six months somewhere near Seattle, and, before that, for almost nine months in Mozambique. When one worked in extraction, the ability to be undetectable was a useful and necessary skill. Arthur didn't tell Yusuf that, during those and earlier absences, he had known exactly where Eames was.
"He's probably just hiding from that woman, what's-her-face," Yusuf said sagely to his beer, swirling the dark contents with a pensive crease between his brows. "She was pretty angry with him."
Arthur paused with his glass halfway to his lips. "Who?"
Yusuf shrugged. "I don't know. Her name was Monica or something like that. I saw her at Eames's place a couple of times before the Fischer thing. Tall, curvy… and what was it Eames called her? Oh, right! An aviation blonde." He smiled at the slang, but Arthur raised an eyebrow. "It was dyed," Yusuf supplied helpfully. "Anyway – and I just heard this, understand – Eames suckered her into one of his cons and she ended up losing quite a tidy fortune." He swallowed a mouthful of beer. "Or a painting. Don't quite remember."
"And she came back here later, pissed off?"
"Yeah. 'Bout a year ago, I guess right before Eames left, she was back. I saw her walking around by the apartments, face all scrunched up. She looked pretty upset. I felt bad!" Yusuf shook his head. "She was attractive enough. Her breasts could've knocked a solid guy down if he was looking properly." He leered. "You wouldn't have seen me leaving her out on the street like that."
"Mmm." Arthur nodded. This was an interesting development. If she was, indeed, the reason for Eames's departure, from Mombasa, at least, then the apartment-left-in-haste made more sense.
He shook Yusuf's hand again as they were parting, longer and less professionally than when they had reunited at the airport early that morning. "If you ever need another chemist," Yusuf said, his words a little slurred but his honesty clear, "don't hesitate to call me." Arthur could see the edge in his eyes – boredom. Yusuf was bored, running his little dream den, never going into the field. After inception… Well, Arthur had had to fight his own lethargy for months as he sought out something that could compare. But he had practice fighting off boredom, didn't he? Nothing could compare…
"I won't," he assured. "Take care. And thank you."
"Kila la kheri!" Yusuf shouted as Arthur headed back toward his hotel. "Good luck to you!"
Arthur nodded. When he was almost out of earshot, nearing the corner of the street, Yusuf called again.
"What?" Arthur blinked back at the spot of light that was the bar.
"Her name was Monica Silvermann!"
Arthur nodded slowly. And smiled.
"Please go away," he said, sweat streaming down his back. He was only fourteen.
Cicadas droned ceaselessly. Someone moved up behind him.
A bell chimed.
"We're coming in for the landing now," said the pilot. "It is currently four PM and sixty-eight degrees. Thank you for flying with us today." A stewardess was walking down the aisle reminding people to return their tray tables to the upright position. Arthur sat up straight and blinked the sleep from his eyes. Out the window he could see nothing but clouds.
It was raining in San Francisco when Arthur arrived, but he had checked the weather before flying in and had his umbrella ready when he left the airport. Droves of tourists and returning natives joined him in the queue for cabs, muttering about the storm and their work and their lives. Arthur was quiet. He waited calmly until a free taxi arrived and then slid into the back seat, preferring to keep his only bag on his lap. The inside of the cab smelled like stale smoke and wet leather. Arthur told the driver where he wanted to go.
It had been fourteen months since that day on the Millennium Bridge, fifty-eight days since Arthur had been in The Green Mamba downing drinks with Yusuf. He had had some difficulty locating Ms. Silvermann; she had a penchant for travel and had, in recent months, become Mrs. Gregory Spitzer. Her new husband was something of a music mogul, or so the internet informed him, though Arthur was unfamiliar with any of Spitzer's performers. (Arthur's taste in pop culture had, when he was a child, become stuck somewhere in the nineteen-fifties, courtesy of his mother's love of Frank Sinatra. His first romantic dream had involved Ginger Rogers. His first sex dream had involved Fred Astaire.) Still, a detailed knowledge of the latest stars was unnecessary for his current mission. He found Mrs. Spitzer's residence with ease, and knocked smartly on the door.
From within there was a muffled cry of "Just a minute!" Arthur could hear music through an open upstairs window, some kind of jazz piano piece that could have been live. The whirling notes had just reached a crescendo when the door swung open.
"Yes?" Monica Spitzer was a shrewd-looking woman. Her penciled eyebrows arched over deep green eyes that sat astride a sharp but regal nose. Her hair had indeed been dyed blonde, though it was less obvious than many dye jobs Arthur had seen; it looked almost natural except for the half-inch of dark roots that were revealed by her part. Her face was thin and angular, but, as Yusuf had said, the rest of her was far from it, swooping down under her Japanese-inspired dress in rollicking curves that made Arthur – who had been abstinent for much too long – faintly nervous. "You had better not be a salesman," Monica declared, eying him distastefully. "I used the last guy to make a rug for my den."
"I'm not a salesman," Arthur said, allowing his lips to quirk up despite himself. "I'm a… Well, I'm not really a friend, but I believe we have a mutual acquaintance." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a photograph of Eames – a recent one, taken from the London apartment. It was dated August 2033, only a month before Eames had vanished, and depicted the forger in formalwear, gazing at the camera with an oddly stoic face. A passport photo. Probably for one of his various and sundry disguises. Arthur held it up so that Monica could see it. "Do you know this man?"
Monica shifted and leaned against the doorframe. It was clear to Arthur that she did – not only because of Yusuf's information but also because of the way the corners of her mouth drew tight, the way her left eye twitched faintly. She was trying to remain unmoved, and would have appeared casual to anyone off the street, but Arthur was well-versed in how to read a person's tells. He was about to call her on it – the silence having dragged on long enough – when she took a short breath, apparently deciding something to herself. "Are you with the police?" she asked, more resigned than alarmed at the possibility. Arthur was intrigued.
"No," he said. "I'm his… cousin. Joseph." Yes. The lie rolled smoothly off his tongue. "He's been missing for a few months now, and I found your name in his address book."
"Missing?" Monica frowned and took the photo from his hand. "Missing missing? You sure he's not just working a con?" She said this quite directly, glaring down at Eames's glossy face. Arthur had checked up the job Eames had pulled on her during his research. Apparently, he had gotten away with just under 100,000 dollars. Monica's marriage had moved her up in the world financially, so the sum was no longer a crippling amount gone, but that much money was still nothing to sneeze at. Arthur was rather surprised at how calm she was.
Well, if she wasn't going to blow up about it, then he could use it to his advantage. He decided his cousin persona knew about Eames's true profession.
"No, he isn't. Even when he's working, he'll answer his phone when I call," he said, and then realized it was the truth. He blinked, but couldn't spare time to think about it just then. "I haven't been able to reach him."
Monica gazed at the photograph for another minute and then handed it back to Arthur, turning her eyes on him. "I don't know what I can do for you, but you'd better come in," she said, and, astonished, Arthur followed her into the foyer. Across from the door was a grand staircase, which Monica paused at in order to yell to the second floor. "Greg!" she called, and the piano music Arthur had heard before stopped. "I've got a client in, wants to go over designs for his living room. We'll be in the studio, and I'll be back out for dinner!" She received an affirmative answer and moved on, leaving Arthur to trail behind.
"How did you know him?" Arthur asked, once they were situated in a small office space, seated on chairs seemingly placed at random among easels and other design supplies. The studio was free of the art deco theme of the rest of the house and Arthur felt that it was the room Monica most called home. Perhaps that meant she would open up to him.
"I met James when he was in school," she replied, looking out the window at the rain. "I lived in Windsor when I was a girl and my father taught at the College."
Arthur had not been expecting that. He had thought she was a woman Eames met in a club somewhere. He frowned and gave her a second, considering look. "Go on."
"Oh, he was two or three years older than me, but he liked to come down to the town sometimes after his classes, which is how I knew him. My girlfriends and I practically lived at this little coffee shop, and the boys would come around to try and impress us with their studies and to buy us drinks." She had a wistful smile on her face, remembering. "James was the friendliest, the only one who really treated us like we were equals and not just these fascinating but unattainable creatures. I doubt he ever thought anything more of us than that we were friends, but I always had a- Well, a crush on him."
Arthur found himself with an image of a young Eames in his mind: a small boy, probably, as Eames was not particularly tall now, though one with a definite stage presence. His sandy hair was messy, his grin crooked. Nonetheless, he must have been quite the sight decked out in the important black tails and waistcoat of his uniform.
"I asked him once – he must have been nearing his last year – if he would go out with me, but he turned me down. I think- Yes, I think he was involved with one of his classmates at the time." Monica sighed. "I felt like such a fool when I saw them holding hands. I thought that he'd been putting me on." She laughed a tad derisively. "I was so self-centered back then."
"But you saw him recently," said Arthur, who had to remind himself that what he was interested in wasn't Eames's life story but his current whereabouts.
"Yes." Monica turned from the window and set her steady gaze on Arthur. "About five years ago I ran into him when I was on vacation in London. He seemed happy to see me. Then." She snorted. "We went out a few times, reminisced. I guess his tastes changed; he started seeing me seriously in March of 2030."
2030 was the year of the Fischer inception. Arthur was bemused and then angry, recalling the sly hints, the teasing, the flirting Eames had bothered him with. He would have to resolve this issue at the soonest possible convenience. "You were dating?"
"Yes. We didn't see each other too often, but we always had a good time when we did." She gave Arthur an assessing look. "Your cousin is a captivating man, Mr…."
"Fontaine." Joseph Fontaine, that was a familiar name. Arthur ignored the alien rush of recognition and focused his gaze on his Moleskine, wherein he was taking notes.
"Mr. Fontaine." Monica crossed her legs delicately. "I believed he intended to marry me. Once," and here she glanced away again, a faint color appearing high on her cheeks, "Once I saw the ring box in his suitcase. I should have asked about it then, though it was probably empty. One more prop in his seduction." She cleared her throat. "In any case, he left me that morning with a kiss and I didn't see him again. I found out later that he had taken the money from my account." She sighed. "I looked for him in Africa, but he wasn't home. I don't know why I expected him to be."
"You can't blame yourself for that," Arthur said absently, his mind working at a furious pace. Eames, for all his flaws, could not be called cruel. He touched Arthur's shoulder, slipped a hand under his collar to rest against bare skin. Arthur shivered. When he asked for more, Eames turned away. As long as Arthur had known him, admitting how little he really knew him, he had never seen Eames work maliciously. He saw dice rolling and cards sliding into arcs of hidden potential. No, he saw Eames cheat their struggling new chemist out of half her share when he was already going home a rich man.
Even when Eames and he had gone after a group who wanted them dead, Eames had made it quick, without excessive pain. Arthur had been the one with the knife and the wire. Arthur had been the one covered in blood to his elbows. Arthur had been the one who couldn't remember it in the morning. Only the heat.
Arthur believed that Eames wouldn't lie about marrying someone, especially a childhood friend. If he was going to con using his sex appeal, he wouldn't get emotionally involved at all. It hurt. So what had happened?
"Was he acting strange that morning, Mrs. Spitzer?"
She laughed with a trace of bitterness. "Strange like how? He was always strange before he left. Sometimes he would go with only the clothes on his back. Other times, he'd leave in the middle of night without even a goodbye. And he was usually on his phone."
Arthur shook his head; such quick departures were common in their line of work. He had no doubt that, occasionally, he had been the one calling Eames away. The knowledge gave him an odd feeling of vindictive joy, which he quashed before he could dwell on it. "No, I mean did he say anything weird to you before going?"
Monica opened her mouth to say no, and then paused. She blinked. "Now that you mention it, he did say something that I thought was a little bit… odd. He said "Monica, you are very lucky." And then he was gone. Some luck." She crossed her arms. "Does that mean anything?"
"I doubt it," said Arthur, though it didn't seem like casual conversation to him. He wrote the words down.
"Well, that's everything I know." Monica stood, and so did Arthur.
"It was interesting; thank you."
"Sure." She led him back through the house and held the door for him. "Good luck finding him, I suppose." She looked torn, as if she still felt something for Eames, despite the fact he had stolen from her. "I guess he just wasn't the Eton boy I used to know."
"People change," said Arthur, and then something clicked in his brain. A young man with a promising future. "Just one more question. Please."
Monica raised an eyebrow and opened the door a little wider. "Yeah?"
"Did you know Perry Haversham? He would have been at school at the same time as James."
Monica looked surprised. "Perry Haversham? I haven't heard that name in a long time." She folded her arms, looking thoughtful. "Haversham… Ha!" She brushed her hair behind her ear, looking rueful. "How could I have forgotten. He was the boy James threw me over for all those years ago. Smart kid. Whatever happened to him?"
"Haven't the foggiest," Arthur declared, and walked away.
"You killed a boy who loved you." Arthur was leaning against a leather chaise lounge that he found rather distasteful. All of the furniture in the hotel suite was obnoxious, pretentiously playing at "classy." The king-sized bed to one side looked at once too big and too small for the room. There were rose petals sprinkled over the coverlet. "He loved you, Arthur. Why did you…"
The room smelled of women's perfume. "I love you, Arthur! Why are you…?"
"You're only guessing he loved me," replied Eames, standing by the wall of windows overlooking New York (and Paris, and Rome). He loosened his bowtie and drew it off with a flourish. "Welcome to the Hotel Eames," he had said, and the windows that time had showed Moscow. "Good, isn't it? I like to think we cater to the dirty rich." Eames's dreams always had a flair for the dramatic.
"So what question should I ask?" Arthur strode across the plush carpeting to stand beside him, and didn't flinch when Eames took his hands. "It will do, I suppose. Though, please, for the love of God, take that Dali off the wall!"
"Ask yourself if you want this."
Eames's hands on his hips and Eames's mouth on his neck and Arthur was cold, cold in front and burning behind. Eames was rough and gentle as he pushed him against the window, pressing Arthur's dripping cock against the glass. "You're so hot for me, you little slut," Eames purred, and he licked down Arthur's spine. "Do you want me to fuck you?"
"Arthur, don't move. It will feel good."
"Yes, yes," he panted, and arched back, desperate for that heat.
Eames bent him over a desk in the back room, dropping him down naked atop an endless surveillance report. He ran his hands down Arthur's sides. He slicked himself with lube. "You're just begging for it, aren't you? Tell me what you want, darling." "You don't know what you want, darling. You don't even know who you are."
"I want your cock in me," Arthur growled, and because he was the one in control, he forced himself back. Eames grunted in exertion or surprise and said, "Fuck. Fuck, oh, Arthur."
Cobb was in the other room. The door wasn't even locked.
"He can hear us," said Arthur, and he was so tight that Eames was breathing harshly. His own thighs were on fire.
"You like it," said Eames. You little whore. He kissed the sweat off Arthur's back lovingly, so incongruous a move that Arthur felt tears pricking the corners of his eyes.
When he came he saw fireworks but he couldn't feel anything.
"Will you kiss me?" Eames asked when they were lying in bed together. They were covered only by a light purple and green quilt. The sun from the window was hot. Cicadas buzzed outside. Joey looked down on him and bled.
"I don't understand," said Arthur, heart in his throat.
He woke and pulled back the sheets to stare down at his erection, flushed red and lolling against his belly. He almost reached out to curl his fingers around it, but he suddenly couldn't bear the thought of touching himself. He shuddered and got out of bed, letting an icy cold shower wash away the arousal and the dream.
"I don't know why you're asking me," said Cobb. He set the iron aside and picked up Philippa's pink gingham dress, shaking it out to put a bounce back in the pleats and then laying it aside. "I didn't know him any better than you did, and I had a distinct feeling that he didn't like me much, besides."
Arthur shrugged and leaned back, resting against the doorframe. The laundry room was small, tiny really, big enough only for Cobb and the ironing board and a basket of kid-sized clothes, neatly folded. He had to marvel at how good Cobb had gotten at being domestic, even if the sight of him in a T-shirt did make Arthur uncomfortable. "I'm more interested in what you can tell me about his contacts. I've run out of places to look – no, I couldn't find anything in New York either. I just-" He paused. "I just think something's going on." He had been feeling odd for days now. Something was definitely going on.
"Something like what?" Cobb turned off the iron and motioned for Arthur to go back into the hallway, following him out. They walked into the kitchen and Cobb fetched a couple of beers from the fridge. The sounds of the children playing outside with their grandmother floated in through the kitchen window, ajar despite the chill in the air.
"I'm not sure. But I don't think it's good." He ran a hand over his hair. "Why would he just run? What if he was in danger?"
"I haven't heard anything." Cobb sipped at his drink. "The only trouble that's recently come up is that spot we got into with Kerry Corp. around six months ago, and Raleigh phoned me last night to tell me we're clear. It looks like they've decided not to retaliate, and you were only doing remote research for that anyway. Where were you? Searching?"
"Yeah. I was in Manchester." It was Eames's hometown, but it hadn't been helpful. It looked like Eames hadn't been there in years, even decades. He'd found nothing on the forger's family, either. A bust.
Cobb made a noncommittal noise and looked out the window. It was starting to get dark. "Arthur… It's been a while now. Maybe he's..."
Cobb didn't blink. "Maybe Laney caught up with him. You know that man hates to be cheated."
"Dom, no." Arthur set his beer down firmly on the table. "He isn't dead. Someone would have found the body. No, I think it has to do with dreams. He asked me before he went if I had started dreaming again. And I have. They started pretty soon afterward." The dreams had to be a part of it. He kept seeing that room…
He heaved a sigh. "It's probably nothing, Arthur. We've all been working less since Fischer. Miles has been looking into it, and he's getting results that point toward a gradual return of natural dreams. It's been happening to me, too." He looked pensive.
Arthur thinned his lips and didn't speak. He wondered if he should tell Cobb about the nightmares and then decided against it. "Maybe you're right."
"See? It doesn't mean anything. It's just a random firing of nerves in the brain." Cobb half-smiled then. "I'm sorry. I know you want to find him. But maybe he doesn't want to be found. Maybe he can't be."
Arthur thought of dead Perry Haversham and Eames's handwritten note and thought Maybe he shouldn't be. But he didn't really believe that. He took a belligerent sip of beer and didn't object when Cobb changed the subject to football, lamenting the fresh loss of the Raiders to the Patriots. It was a topic he'd never been interested in and he let Cobb's voice float over his head as he thought, only rousing himself half an hour later as the children came in and asked him to help set the table.
"Are you in love with him?"
Arthur brushed away a dark curl that had settled on his forehead. "I don't know. I wasn't."
"Don't fall for an idea of him, Arthur." Cobb touched his shoulder and shifted. It was dark in the room, but Arthur could feel Cobb's breath on his neck. Shhh, the kids are asleep. "That can only end in heartbreak."
"I won't." He huffed out a breath. It didn't feel quite true on his tongue, but he ignored that. He closed his eyes.
"Please go away," he said, sweat streaming down his back. He was only fourteen, sprawled on the living room carpet of his uncle Billy Fontaine's family room, a book open in front of his nose. He had been alternately reading and dozing for the past three hours without interruption, but the heat was making him irritable. The cicadas buzzing outside were lulling him back to sleep, but he had to blink awake when he heard a footstep behind him. Grudgingly, he turned to look. "What do you want, Joey?"
His cousin was eighteen, bigger than Arthur, and thicker, too. They looked nothing alike, despite the fact that their mothers were identical twins. They had been friends at one point, back when Arthur was too stupid not to follow Joe around, but had since grown apart.
"Come here. I have something to show you."
Arthur was in a bad mood, but he found himself getting up anyway. Perhaps the book was boring. He was growing tired of the heat and the cicadas. He followed Joe into the master bedroom.
There was no one else around.
"Arthur," Joseph said, as he locked the door. He grabbed Arthur's sticky wrists before he could run and forced him onto the bed. "Don't move. It will feel good."
"No, I'm sure I'm okay Dom," mumbled Arthur, wiping vomit from his chin. "I have to go. No, I really have to go."
The Mombasa apartment hadn't changed since he had last been there, except to acquire a layer of dust that softened all of the edges. Arthur stifled a quick sneeze as he stepped inside, nose irritated by the particles stirred up by the open door, and drew out his handkerchief. It had been a gift from Eames early in their professional relationship... He'd only removed it from his linen closet recently.
Arthur made his way carefully across the apartment and into Eames's bedroom, kneeling beside the bedside table and pulling out the still-unlocked drawer. He half-expected – half-wanted – to find that the items inside were gone… that Eames had returned and taken them away for safekeeping. But the photos, article, and letter were exactly where he'd left them. He sighed. The undisturbed dust had already told him no one had come in, anyway.
The last time he had sat on this floor, he had left the letter alone. It had felt wrong to read someone else's mail, especially that addressed to someone he barely knew. Now… Well, if anything, it would provide proof to his suspicions. Suspicions. And hadn't he had suspicions for years? They never saw that side of the family. Now the nightmares made sense. Arthur tried to ignore the implications of that and focused on not tearing the envelope as he untucked the flap in the back. Inside was a slightly yellowed piece of paper with a handwritten message on it.
"So why did you do it?" he asked the empty air, tipping the page into a beam of golden sunlight from the bedroom window. He began to read.
July 5th, 2022
We have been friends for a long time now, and the years have been good. You were always a great guy to have around. I miss our school days; those were fun times. However, friend as you have been, I do have to give you this bad news. I don't want to continue our relationship. I tried to tell you before, when we were in Chelsea, but you wouldn't listen. I don't want to hurt you. But I think it would be best if we stopped seeing each other.
"Thank you, ma'am." Arthur nodded to her and left the reference desk, heading for the private computer room to research. He put his bag down at the first station and pulled up The Guardian's website archives.
He looked in his Moleskine, looked at the list of dates from the London computer. He had a sinking feeling of what they meant, now. He scrolled through the issues until he reached the first marked date. As he suspected, he found the article Eames kept in his drawer. Perry Haversham's smiling face beamed out at him from the screen. Arthur swallowed and clicked off the page.
The second date was Sharon Ringgold. 2024, only two years later. Two shots to the chest. What else did you do?
There were six of them all together, and perhaps some had never been found.
Arthur wondered if Eames had loved all of them.
"So I have problems with commitment," Eames said in the dream, crossing his legs at the ankle where they were propped up on the file cabinet. He was wearing a navy-colored uniform of indeterminate origin, stripped of identifying rank. "I have problems with commitment," Eames said, avoiding Cobb's eyes. "I can't promise to work exclusively with you. I won't promise. Where would be the fun in that?"
"Yes, I can see that," said Arthur. He was sitting on a metal chair, also in uniform. His wrists were strapped to the arms. Peculiar. "We're not asking for a contract, Mr. Eames. Just for an assurance that you won't sell us out."
"I can't promise that either."
Another man came into the room, face blurred, holding a silver briefcase. Arthur had seen something like that before. He pulled at his bonds.
"What do you remember, boy?"
"My name is Arthur."
A look exchanged. "What do you remember, Arthur?"
Arthur said nothing.
"Do you know Joseph Fontaine?"
"Do you know Imelda Fontaine?"
"No." The men nodded to each other. "Welcome to the Secret Service, Arthur."
He opened the screen door to the South Carolina house with his hip, carrying a drink in each hand. Eames took his mint julep gratefully in his fingertips, careful not to disturb the frosted pewter cup. Arthur sat down beside him on the steps. He dug his toes into the living room's pile carpet and sipped his sweet tea.
Cicadas. It was so hot for May.
"Would you kill me, James?" Arthur placed his glass squarely beside him and drew Eames's hand closer, leaning his cheek against the paintbrush-calloused fingers. Eames had strikingly warm hands, and Arthur enjoyed it even in the summer swelter. "Would you shoot me if I left you?"
"We were never together," said Eames. His soft lips met Arthur's hairline, his ear, his jaw.
"But if we were."
Eames hummed speculatively and the day dragged on toward sunset. Arthur felt as if the moment would never end. Then he felt the muzzle of a pistol under his ribs.
"Yes," said Eames. He pulled the trigger.
Arthur reached into the bedside drawer and took out his uncle's gun. He pulled the trigger and Joey fell on top of him, dead. Such joy. He was free. A lily-white hand unlocked the bedroom door, pushed it open. Aunt Imelda. Her eyes were huge. "Arthur! He loved you!" she cried. She couldn't see his pants undone, or Arthur's bloody thighs. "Why did you-?"
Arthur shot her, too.
"I don't believe that I will ever see him again," Arthur declared. He felt raw. He felt sick. He took another drink, draining his wooden cup.
"Perhaps that is for the best." Saito reached across the table to refill Arthur's choko with daiginjo-shu. The sake was slightly sweet and served at room temperature. It was very, very expensive.
They were alone in the room together, though Arthur could see the shadow of a security guard outside the frosted glass door of Saito's office. The space was a mixture of East and West, of modernity and tradition. The walls were hung with Hokusai prints. He wouldn't be surprised if they were originals. The bookcases were all black steel, sparsely populated by business-related books and folders, though what was there was artfully arranged. Everything about the office was elegant.
Arthur leaned back in his chair and looked at the clock mounted on the wall by the window. He wasn't sure how he felt about drinking before noon, but he just sighed and tossed it back. "Perhaps it is."
"I've heard the job can… change a man." Saito carefully smoothed down his lapels. Arthur had told him about Eames. He hadn't said a word about himself. A very private person, read Arthur's military profile. Very private.
"I don't think that's what happened."
"If you say so. Will you drop the search?" Saito made to fill his cup again, but Arthur placed a firm hand over it.
"Yes," he lied.
Saito smiled. "Thank you, Arthur. You know we are all concerned. I had not spoken to Ariadne since the inception until she called me about you. It is lucky that I found you in the airport, or she would have come herself."
"That is lucky." Arthur did not want Ariadne to see him. He stood and pulled on his coat. "Thank you, but I think I'm going to retire."
"By all means," said Saito. He called for his attendant to take Arthur to a guest room in the penthouse.
Arthur did not dream.
It was raining in London when Arthur arrived, but he'd forgotten his umbrella in Hong Kong on the layover. He was tired. Wet. He stared down at the Thames, watching the water ripple in the downpour. The quiet tap of footsteps behind him was almost lost in the sound, and Arthur didn't turn, even when he felt the presence of a body beside him. It had stopped raining on his head.
"Why?" His voice was as ragged as the boarding pass dissolving in his pocket, Destination: Los Angeles slowly melting away in the damp.
"I've been living here," said Eames, avoiding the question. "Out of sight." He unwrapped his scarf and slipped it around Arthur's neck, carefully tucking the ends into Arthur's pea coat. "You're going to catch your death, my dear."
"You knew I was looking for you."
Arthur leaned against the rail of the Millennium Bridge and folded his arms. "Why?" he asked again. Seven days ago he had hacked the US government's database, read files about the PASIV that didn't officially exist. It had been an early experiment, he found. An experiment to rehabilitate young criminals, to see if they could be saved. It was like inception. People covering memories, adding new ones. Repression wasn't real, so they had to make it up.
"I wanted you to find out for yourself." Eames shifted his umbrella and stepped closer. Behind them, a woman in a blue slicker hurried by, struggling to keep her hood from blowing off. The wind seemed to be picking up, the sky darkening. Little waves broke against the shores of the Thames. "I am not to be trusted."
"You were at the facility, too." Arthur turned and looked at Eames for the first time in three years. He looked the same, if a little older. Hair a little longer. He looked calm. His eyes were a deep blue-gray. "But it didn't work on you."
"No, it didn't. They couldn't find me." A sudden smile split his face, and it looked normal. It looked sane. "I changed myself. How noble was the birth of my forgery."
"Did you-" But Arthur studied Eames's grin again. "Do you enjoy it?" He thought of Eames's hand clutching the grip of a Beretta 9mm and, surrounded by water, his mouth went dry. He licked his lips.
"Yes." Eames licked his own lips, the gesture quite a bit more sensual. "Did you?"
He considered lying. In the end, he decided it was futile. "Yes."
"Ah, but you were justified," said Eames, who knew more about Arthur than Arthur did. More than anyone had a right to.
"I liked it more than that." And there had been others. Those men in Dubai, who had wanted them dead. A woman in Egypt that he had forgotten about. He paused. Above them, it was growing steadily darker. Thunder rumbled ominously from the West. "Will you love me now?"
Eames didn't answer. He stayed silent as Arthur stood up straight and kissed his cheek roughly, sliding a cold hand under Eames's collar to touch bare skin. The wind shook the umbrella, sending tiny pinpoints of icy water down onto their shoulders. "I could do that. If you wanted me to."
"Mm." Arthur had moved his mouth to the pulse point in Eames's throat, unbuttoning his jacket and shirt. "What about Monica?"
"I needed the money." Eames tried to stop himself from leaning into Arthur's ministrations.
"Is that all."
"It was a bad idea to kill her. Her family has connections."
"Okay." He accepted it. "And the ring?" Arthur's other hand was down the front of Eames's trousers. His fingers were so cold that Eames gasped and bit his tongue. A man in a dark suit striding past them stopped despite the weather to give them a suspicious look. Arthur trembled.
"I thought you might remember yourself after the Fischer job," Eames sighed, letting his own hands find their way to Arthur's backside. The umbrella tumbled to the ground. The rain fell. "It was for you."
"Are you telling the truth?" asked Arthur, and, because he didn't care to know the answer, he covered Eames's mouth with his own. He closed his eyes. This heat. "Are you going to stop running now?"
"Yes," said Eames, crushing their bodies together.
Arthur sighed and let Eames hold him. "Good," he murmured. "Let us end badly together."
Reviews: they make my life so much better! Please? Pretty please?