Summary: Arthur/Eames. As time goes on, Arthur finds it harder and harder to see. So Eames sees the world for him. Post-canon. One shot.
Disclaimer: Nolan's, not mine.
A/N: It started off as a personal glasses kink. Then it got a plot. 0_0 IDEK. And shit, look at my terrible awesome creativity skills with that title. *Eyeroll*.
Originally posted at LiveJournal: 18 Decemeber, 2010
Arthur looked astonishing in black wire-rimmed glasses. Well, astonishing might not have been the right word. Astounding fit a little better.
He had pulled them out to look over some files and Eames immediately noticed the change. They fit in well with the rumpled white shirt with rolled up sleeves and the casual black slacks. There was always something rather alluring about the bookish look—librarians and teachers quickly sprung to mind—and Eames was about to voice that before Ariadne beat him to the punch.
"I never knew you needed glasses," she said without hiding the surprise in her voice, "If I guessed you were short sighted, I'd have put my money on you wearing contacts."
"Not quite that vain to poke myself in the eye every morning," Arthur replied without looking up from the financial records of Hawsers Inc. The glasses detracted from the fact he was on a job. Eames could easily picture Arthur exactly as he was now, except in front of a television at home, maybe reading the paper with a cup of tea.
Eames cleared his throat and tried to concentrate on the news articles about the illustrious wife of the CEO of Hawsers Incorporated. She was young and beautiful, easy on the eyes in that vapid, superficial way, but Eames' attention kept drifting to Arthur wearing glasses.
"How can you shoot so accurately?" Ariadne pressed, ignoring her convoluted 3-D model of the dream scape they'd be using next. Since they were only using one level for the job, it had to a rather complex maze to buy them enough time.
Putting down the papers and pulling out his laptop, Arthur spared a moment to shoot a quick, soft grin in her direction. "Just because I'm using reading glasses doesn't mean I'm blind. I can see things far away from me perfectly well."
Eames couldn't but interrupt. "Is that why you keep pushing me away? Darling, you only had to say so! I don't blame you in the least for wanting a better view."
Pausing in his typing, Arthur's eyes flickered up at Eames and while he didn't smile, they curved slightly in the corners; it was hard to hide emotions from a forger, he wanted to say, but didn't. There were a lot of things Eames never said. He contented himself knowing there was a lot Arthur never said either.
Turning back to the screen, a white glare reflected on the glasses, Arthur simply murmured, "Whatever gets you to sleep at night, Mr. Eames."
Dom interrupted them then, proudly brandishing a pair of newspapers—one in English, the other in Japanese—with the headline article about Robert Fischer's booming industry in getaway franchises (hotels, ski-resorts and the like); no one could have foresaw him dissolving his father's energy company, after all. And no one thought he could be just as successful on his own.
Arthur grinned and turned his laptop around, the screen showing the rise in price for Fischer's stock. How lucky it was Arthur had invested in him.
The sly dog, Eames thought, laughing along with the rest of the group.
No one commented further when Arthur wore his glasses more often. It was becoming common place to see him wearing them at the warehouse while sitting on a plastic chair, puzzling over sheets of paper as he organised the details. The glasses made him look younger, more approachable; perhaps it was because with the rolled up sleeves and the top button undone, he seemed like a casual university student.
However, Eames wondered whether the others noticed that the glasses changed slightly over the months. Superficially, they were still black and squarish and utterly dazzling when Arthur deigned to smile; except the lenses of the glasses changed. It was hot-wired in Eames' system to notice small things like that.
The lenses were getting stronger, yet Arthur started occasionally squinting at his computer screen, or at whatever—probably illegal—documents he was working with. He read things a little slower, as if cautious not to miss something.
Eames had followed enough marks to know when they had difficultly seeing. He knew the tiny tells that showed someone needed glasses more than they didn't need them; like when Arthur would turn his head to look at something rather than glancing out of the corner of his eye where the glasses couldn't cover the peripheral vision.
Still, Arthur was doing a remarkable job regardless. His handwriting didn't suffer, neither did his information compilations, nor did his minute observations of their various cases.
"Concentrate on the fucking road!" Arthur yelled over his shoulder, busy shooting projections trying to track their car. The scene felt somehow like reversed déjà vu, but Eames wasn't driving a dirty old cab in this one, no.
He was in the driver's seat of a bloody fantastic car, a black Bugatti Veyron. He really had to find Ariadne at the end of this dream and compliment her on even getting the new car smell right in the mess of all this chaos—
He pulled the steering wheel hard right and narrowly missed a fire hydrant. One of the motorcyclists wasn't quite as lucky and crashed violently with a sickening crunch of bone and metal. Eames had long desensitised himself to the deaths of projections, but sometimes it was still pretty messed up shit to constantly see people die, real or not.
Every bang of the gun seemed to echo in Eames' ears, charging him with adrenalin. He wondered whether it was just him or was Arthur using more magazines then he usually was apt to? Though there wasn't much time to waste on such thoughts when Arthur kept yelling about getting to the bloody safe before re-enforcements came. If these were the foot soldiers, Eames did not want to meet the cavalry.
He couldn't wait to wake up; he was going to punch Cobb in the face for taking on a job of a militarized man without Yusuf's chemicals. This shit is what happened when you underestimated the enemy.
The sounds of gunshots, back-seat cursing and squealing tires mingled with the smell of burning rubber, blood and fresh leather. Eames swore it felt so real before snapping out of those thoughts, taking a short-cut he'd asked Ariadne to put in.
And she thought putting a direct road through the east side was wasteful since it destroyed her 'artistic harmony'. Bah. Architects: can't live with them, and you'd probably get stuck in Limbo without them.
When Eames stopped the car, Arthur fired off two more shots and the lone car following them exploded. It would have made for an excellent action scene in a movie, Eames thought, if not for the burning bits of human flesh raining down on them. Sometimes dreams were a little too real.
They quickly entered the non-descript building and found the safe sitting in the middle of an empty room.
"Bingo, darling," Eames grinned with the face of a Hispanic man—the brother of today's mark. His large hands pressed softly at the fingerprint scanner on the safe and it clicked open easily; the target trusted family a little too much. Arthur grabbed at the folder inside and started speed reading the information so important to the client.
It was ironic that they'd stolen from Hawsers Inc., only to be hired by them a year later to steal from someone else. Not that they knew. If the company knew that, well, the team were probably going to be killed in their sleep.
Eames' gun already had its safety disabled, and he held it half-cocked, finger waiting to shoot at any projections. So far it was quiet; Ariadne was getting better and better at building dream scapes that were convoluted and confusing. However, she was still a rookie in the eyes of the underground extraction world, so she could only buy them a few minutes at most.
There was once a time when Mal could get the team days to do what needed to be done. She could raise countries in the time it took Ariadne to build a lone skyscraper. Her imagination was always fierce. It was little wonder she lost her grip on reality.
Shaking his head, Eames looked over to see if Arthur was done. His eyes were focused on the end of the last of the papers, so they were nearly set to shoot themselves and get out of the dream. There was something wrong with the picture and Eames had to pause for a moment to realise the difference.
"You don't wear glasses in the dream world!" he finally exclaimed with the tone of someone making some great miraculous discovery.
Arthur, professional he was, didn't look up or respond until he was done, returning the papers to their safe and pulling out his own gun from thin air. Sirens were sounding in the distance. Ariadne had bought them a total of four minutes and eight seconds. He would remember to tell her that – probably after gloating the east side short cut was worth it.
"In my dreams, I can see perfectly," Arthur said tonelessly, and that was the last thing Eames heard before Arthur's bullet shot through his skull.
It was barely the start of winter, yet there was already a thick cover of snow blanketing the grounds. It glowed softly in the sunlight, melting in the golden light. Really, it'd be quite a picturesque image if blood wasn't dripping on it, little scarlet stains growing as more blood fell.
Arthur's blood. This was not a dream.
The alleyway was dark, it smelled like rubbish, the snow beneath them glowed an angelic white and Arthur was bleeding, red soaking the fabric of his sleeves, staining the fingers trying to stem the gushing of the wound.
So, it turned out Hawsers Inc. did know about how they'd been robbed a year ago. Then they hired the team to see if they were really good enough to steal the information. When it turned out Arthur's reconnaissance was perfectly done—damn his complete recall, seriously—semi-automatics were pulled out.
Eames, with hindsight, saw why Cobb didn't want to use Yusuf, or why Ariadne couldn't go into the dream with them; why her job was only design and not participation this time around. At the time it had rung strange, but Ariadne wasn't good with guns or running—not yet, she'd learn that with time. The bastard really didn't want to include more people than he had to.
It made one wonder why he'd agreed to the job in the first place, then Eames saw Arthur grinning, even with the blood dripping down his arm and the answer was like, Ahh, yes, the adrenalin junkies are in charge.
"Where's Dom?" Arthur's voice was hoarse, and Eames vaguely thought he'd seen Arthur being grappled in a choke hold but was too busy breaking someone's arm to take the scene in detail. Anyway, the next time he'd looked, Arthur was free and the man's neck was twisted 180 . It was impressive, though a little vulgar for Arthur's usual standards.
"Cobb, last I saw, was taking down some of the buggers trying to chase after us and running for the car. I assume he's going to warn the rest of the gang."
"Christ," Arthur panted heavily. "I wish I had my phone."
They were too busy to grab their packs and Arthur had made them ditch their electronics at the first chance they had. Phones were too easily tracked—and Eames knew it from personal experience following people himself.
"Not to worry, pet," Eames said with a sly smile. He pulled out a phone from his pocket and before Arthur could yell at him for holding onto a possible tracked device, he explained, "Borrowed this from one of the drunken idiots who walked into me before. My hand slipped."
"'Slipped', my ass," Arthur snorted ungracefully and took the proffered device. "You were an art thief before a forger, and a pick pocket before that."
Eames grinned. "My, my, been looking through my police file again?"
"Files, Eames. You have a few of them," Arthur said as he squinted at the small screen. His free hand fumbled as he tried to press the right key—damned keyboard phones with their tiny buttons—and it suddenly hit Eames that Arthur was having trouble seeing. He mustn't have had his glasses on him, otherwise he'd have put them on by now.
"Do you want me to help?" Eames asked casually, but Arthur shot him a cold glare that told him to shut the hell up. Oh well. Not for lack of trying.
Shrugging, he left Arthur to his devices of slowly typing in a text (to Cobb, presumably). He pulled off his knitted scarf, the one Yusuf had knitted for him when they were both roaring drunk together, and moved to tie it around Arthur's arm and help stop the bleeding. It was one thing to tease and taunt the man, another to do nothing while he bled himself white in an alleyway. Eames' mother did her damnedest to raise him as a gentleman, after all.
When Arthur jumped and flinched at the contact, Eames' eyebrows rose dramatically. Realising his reaction, Arthur stopped and tried to explain, words harried and jumbled. He was looking far too pale to be healthy.
"I didn't see—corner of my eye—you—scarf—from nowhere, and—"
Eames smiled and shook his head, getting a grateful look from Arthur who quickly stopped babbling and got back to texting instructions. Gently, the kind of gentle patience usually reserved for the elderly and the very young, Eames wrapped up Arthur's arm, prying cold fingers from the clean bullet wound. His lumpy scarf wasn't the best of bandages, but it would do until they got their hands on a first aid kit.
He was standing close enough he could smell Arthur, some combination of gunpowder and sweat. Eames eyes drifted past Arthur's shoulder and to the text.
Alley right of Murphy's Bar. Minor injury.
Eames is fine. Lost the guards.
Need transport and a first aid kit asap.
Arthur's hands were fumbling and it was without much effort that Eames took the phone and quickly sent the text to Cobb's emergency number.
"Are you alright?" To a lot of people who have just been shot, that would've been considered an incredibly stupid question. But this was Arthur, who Eames had once seen get impaled by a throwing knife only to rip it out a second later and use it to cut the throat of another projection. The man was nothing short of brilliant on his feet. Not that Eames would ever say that, but it was the thought that counted.
True to form, Arthur nodded, saying, "I'm right," then paused and shook his head. "I've still got a bit of Somnacin in my system. It might be blood loss though. Tad drowsy, but I'll be right."
Before Eames could blink, Arthur whipped out a hand gun from inside his leather jacket and shot a man creeping into the opening of the alley way. The gun in the man's hand was strikingly black against the snow.
"Bugger, I missed," Arthur yawned and stumbled a bit before catching himself on Eames' arm.
Eames' eyebrows rose high up his forehead. Missed? The man was stone cold dead. From what he could tell, the guy was hit right where a kill shot should hit.
Seeing the confusion on his colleague's face, Arthur laughed and said, "I was aiming for the bullet to hit between the eyes."
Pulling Arthur's arm around his shoulders to stop him swaying like a drunken loon, Eames laughed, muttering, "You perfectionist arse."
It was a poor sign that Arthur wasn't really protesting the assistance, seeming to melt a little in to Eames, but not in the good way. Blood was soaking clear through the scarf, and he wondered whether a major artery had been hit or not. It only took one lucky shot...
"I think you meant, 'You have a perfect ass.'"
For a second, Eames froze and blinked before registering what Arthur said, which caused him to laugh again, despite the circumstances."No, no. Wasn't hitting on you that time."
"Oh." It was almost comical and yet somehow sweet how sincerely surprised he was at the admission.
"I can now, if you'd like," Eames offered valiantly, walking them to the opening of the alley.
Before Arthur could answer, a blue car pulled up and Cobb stuck his head out of the window, seeing them and making frantic motions for them to hurry the fuck up.
"Take the guy's gun," Arthur said, pushing and trying to stand without Eames, who let him go after a pause. There was no use forcing help on a man clearly built for independence.
The guard may have been a stooge, an incompetent henchman at best, but his Berretta was in good nick with a full magazine. It'd do. Eames clicked it to safety and shoved it in the back of his belt, since he had no convenient holster like Arthur.
"We have to get out of here. The police don't take kindly to murderers."
"Even if the bastard was trying to murder us?"
"Especially then," Arthur said with his lips quirked up in a half-smile, climbing into the front passenger's seat of the blue car.
"The things we do for a bit of fun," Eames sighed and climbed in after them.
Dom had just driven away when an unmarked white car turned into the street. The chase was on.
Ariadne looked absolutely awful in those puffy, clearly-two-sizes-too-big graduation robes, but she was radiating happiness, so there was that. Arthur was next to her with a huge professional camera slung around his neck. Clearly he wanted to immortalise the moment – Eames was thinking of using it as blackmail against Ariadne in the future. Presumably if she got a boyfriend. Or girlfriend, she didn't discriminate.
"Congratulations," Eames said, handing over a small wrapped gift. It was an oil paints set. He figured something flamboyant and expensive wasn't what she wanted. Judging from her brilliant smile, he was right. "Look at you, all grown up," he added, pretending to choke up with tears.
"Still short stuff though," Arthur said quietly with a smirk, somehow clearly discernable amidst the chaos of the crowds.
Ariadne glared at him without much heat and hit him on the arm with her graduation cap. Even though that mustn't have even registered as anything, Arthur adopted a wounded look, making Ariadne laugh gleefully. Before she stopped, Arthur took a quick snapshot and then pointed the camera at a surprised Eames, capturing him in a photo too.
Arthur and Eames were jostled out of the way when Cobb came to say his own few words to Ariadne, little James and Phillipa in tow. Those kids adored Ariadne like she was a goddess. Then again, she made the most fabulous toys for them out of Lego blocks and Play-Doh; who said love couldn't be bought?
Cobb and his kids had made the move to France pretty quickly after the inception job. All the shit with America had disappeared as easily as Saito had had it would, and Dom was free to take his children where ever he wanted without the fear of being hunted down. France was the ideal choice; what with Mal's dad living there, and how Ariadne attended the same university he worked.
America had too many bad memories, and Arthur had no ties to the country since he left it with Dom. He'd even bought a tasteful two-story house not too far from Cobb's place that he was taking the time to renovate into his style. Eames seemed to stay in France because that's where the majority of the team was, even though he flew out to Mombasa every now and then to see Yusuf.
They didn't sit around and waste their skills though. In a few weeks, the lot of them would be flying over to Germany—Yusuf included—embarking on what promised to be a thrilling extraction. It wasn't so much about the money now that Cobb got his freedom and Saito had filled their wallets for generations to come; it was about the thrill of the chase and the exhilaration to get the heart pounding.
Jerking his head to the side, Arthur indicated they should get out of crowd of happy families and find somewhere a little more subdued. It took a while, but they finally found some semblance of quiet under the trees a few minutes away from the outdoor graduation podium. The excited chatter became muffled background noise and was occasionally drowned out by the sounds of nearby pigeons.
Sighing heavily, Arthur leaned against the cool bark of a tall leafy tree, pulling off his glasses and wiping them with the corner of his button-down shirt. These days, it was stranger to see Arthur without his glasses than with them. He'd switched to dark blue frames, and they highlighted his brown eyes. They were admittedly still rather fascinating; no matter how many times he saw them.
Eames looked away a second before Arthur looked up, but got the feeling the man caught the lingering look regardless. In their trade, intuition was ten times more important than trusting what you saw with your eyes.
"So she's got a degree in architecture now. It's strange to think she'll never use it," Eames mused, shrugging off his jacket and laying it on the slightly moist grass to sit on. The rains had melted the snow and the sun had dried most of what was left. "Well, at least not in a legal sense."
"It's not from lack of trying. I've told her she didn't need to be dragged into the criminal circuit with us, but..." Arthur trailed off, fiddling with the camera lens cap.
"Lucid dreaming is hard to escape from."
They fell quiet and Eames wondered if Arthur was reminiscing over the same thing he was. Because Eames was remembering the first time they met—both as reject army-brats pulled into the world of lucid dreaming for some re-disciplining. Arthur liked to break the rules as much as Eames did, back then.
It was scrapped after a few years and turned into an underground art. Art shouldn't be so addictive, Eames mused. They'd split up then, both heading into difference areas of expertise. Typical Arthur teamed up with the best of the best. Eames liked to wander around before he committed to it. There were only so many thrills you could get from stealing paintings and sculptures—but he wanted to do it in reality before he merely dreamt about doing it.
When your imagination could change who you were, that opened an entire world of possibility. Giving reality a shot was still worth it with the right job though.
"Since when were you into photography?" Eames asked as way of breaking the silence.
"Since I felt like it," Arthur replied coolly, raising the camera and snapping a picture of Eames sitting against the base of the tree. He clicked another silver button when Eames smiled, and a flash set off, momentarily causing stars to appear in Eames' vision.
"Chuck it here, I want to get a photo of you," he said, holding out a hand while rubbing his eyes with the other. Looking up and seeing Arthur's sceptical look, he laughed and said, "I won't bloody break the thing. I'm quite more competent than that."
"So you say," Arthur muttered dubiously, but slipped off the camera from around his neck and gingerly handed it to Eames, who took it and immediately pointed it at Arthur's face. The lighting was all wrong, the shot was slanted and at a strange angle, and Arthur looked a little awkward.
Still, all-in-all, it was a marvellous picture despite the odds. It came off more artistic than amateurish. Arthur's head was slightly ducked; the shadows stopped any glare from his glasses obscuring his hooded gaze, and a strip of sunlight illuminated a sly half-smile quirking the corner of his lips.
It would be the last photo taken where Arthur had his vibrant brown eyes.
Eames was walking down a familiar street dressed in a plain woollen coat and muffler—Yusuf again, but this time made a little more sober and with a little more skill. The surrounding snow was ankle deep and it was only the wool lined boots keeping his feet dry. With clumsy gloved hands, he was holding the phone firmly to his ear, trying to hear clearly despite the winds whipping his cheeks raw with cold.
"The job went well," Eames reported when his tone was really asking, Where were you?
"Cobb told me," Arthur replied dully, his voice really wanting to know, Why are you calling?
They were supposed to work in Germany—take information from one twin and give it to another—but Arthur cancelled without explanation. He worked as point man, but barely, only emailing information and observations for the team to use. It was different without him actually there. It was also strange that Ariadne and Yusuf had gone to Eames for answers, but he knew as much as the rest of them. Even Cobb was left in the dark.
"No one's seen you seen you since our little architect's graduation," Eames branched out carefully, trying to probe how much Arthur was willing to divulge.
Not much of Arthur's history was public knowledge. What Eames knew—that Arthur was orphaned, was chucked in the foster care system and was bounced from house to house until he was eighteen and joined the army—let him know that Arthur didn't run off for some family emergency. The team was as close to family as he'd get, which was a bit disparaging, but never seemed to drag the man down. No, what worried Eames was that Arthur had found himself in a spot of trouble and was too proud to ask for help.
"I'm fine," Arthur said with heavy emphasis, and Eames snorted loudly. He would be seeing if that was true in a few minutes.
He was entering a street lined with trees which helped break the wind. It was Arthur's street, and the man's house was deceptively elegant. The structure was one of those old buildings, raised decades ago which he'd later patched up. There were shutters on the windows, a paved path to the front door from the iron-wrought fence and it had a homely pre-wartime feel to it.
As his hand touched the gate, he half-sang into the phone, "Honey, I'm hooome!"
"Eames, you utter bastard," Arthur hissed angrily, "You didn't—"
The chime of the doorbell sounded like it echoed slightly; he could hear it from pressing the button, and from the speaker of his phone. For a minute, cursing was all he could hear from Arthur. Then,
"Go away. I don't want to see you."
"Oh, but darling," Eames intoned seriously, "I want to see you. Odd it may be, but I have a heart and I'm starting to worry—"
"I could say the same to you. Do you really want me to break the door down?"
"You're right. Picking the lock would be easier for all involved, no?"
"Just—argh! Fine, I'm coming to the door."
Eames grinned jauntily. "Superb."
"I hate you so much," Arthur muttered and then there was a click as he hung up.
There was a pause of a few heartbeats where Eames stowed away his mobile and eyed the entrance—dark mahogany door with stained glass window inset and polished brass fixtures, all very Arthur—when the door opened and showed a haggard looking Arthur slumped tiredly against the frame.
"Here I am. Now go," he said, rubbing his face with the back of his hand. Arthur wasn't clean shaven, stubble well on its way to forming something more substantial. He was wearing nice slacks and a skin-tight gray singlet, casual clothes for home.
Nothing was out of place, not really. He'd seen Arthur like this before, especially when they were in the army together.
Still, an instinctive feeling told him there was something wrong.
Slowly, he touched Arthur's wrist, the one covering his face. Arthur tensed at the contact, but didn't pull away. Eames lowered the arm and Arthur looked up, grim faced and jaw set in an angry expression.
A silvery film covered Arthur's eyes and Eames could not hold back his sharp exhale of surprise. At the noise, Arthur jerked his hand back and walked back inside, leaving the door open for Eames to follow. After a second's hesitation, he did.
The house was exactly like it was last time Eames visited: wooden and brass furniture, all older than Arthur, every piece unique and somehow complementary to the one next to it; the walls were painted in dreary earthy colours and there were books or stacks of paper on nearly available surface. Perhaps the only difference was that every light in the house was on, and it was blazingly bright and artificial in a way that hurt the eyes.
Arthur led them to the living room, the only place in the house conceding to modern things: like the black leather couch, the variety of computers and the flat screen television stuck on the wall like a painting to be admired. It was, if possible, brighter in this room than the rest, and there was a question itching to be asked about the lights.
Instead, Eames shoved his hands into his pockets and said, "What the fuck happened?"
As if ignoring the question, Arthur collapsed into the couch, fingers templed together at the tips, barely touching, and head bowed, making him look almost like someone who was praying. There was a long pause before he made any move to say anything.
He sucked in a deep, shuddering breath and said quietly, "I'm going blind."
There was no doubt, no 'I think', no room for error. Arthur was stating a fact, in the same dry voice he'd used a thousand times before to describe how to take down a target, how to exploit weaknesses, how to get the job done—
Eames blinked and cautiously moved closer to the couch. Arthur didn't move, and he sat down next to him. Even when the seat dipped under his weight, shifting Arthur, the man didn't move.
"Is that why the lights are all so bright?"
"Yeah. I can't—it's just I can see things a little easier when everything illuminated and there aren't any shadows—"
"Hey, hey," Eames said soothingly. "I was just curious. There's nothing wrong with a little extra light."
"Right, right," Arthur muttered under his breath. He leaned back and stared blankly at the ceiling. "I can still see. Well, with glasses and the lights on. Otherwise it's all a big blur of colour. Not really. Colours are going, too. Everything's going."
"Do you know why this is happening?"
"Genetics, I think. Can't be sure, of course." He glanced at Eames, who didn't flinch from the milky gaze now that he was prepared. Arthur looked at the ceiling again. "Parents didn't leave their medical history, but this early onset blindness has to be genetic..."
It was the first time Eames had ever heard Arthur make a clear reference to his unknown birth parents. For a point man who could find anything about anyone, it seemed he never searched for the people that abandoned him.
Arthur's voice was so passive and detached, like he understood that it was alright that the people who left him with less than nothing to not even give him a warning; that it was okay not to even prepare him. The sudden wave of anger on Arthur's behalf consumed Eames, but it broke and simmered to nothing when he remembered anger was not the answer here.
"Why didn't you tell Cobb?" Eames asked. "He'd have understood."
"It wasn't confirmed; I didn't want to say anything. Now it is confirmed, and I still didn't want to say anything." His voice was flat, but despite that, oddly vulnerable. "Probably wouldn't have if you didn't have to be so bloody persistent."
"Persistence is a virtue."
In the silence that followed, Eames looked outside the window, mildly surprised to see it was snowing. The snow was falling at a haphazard angle and speed, forced that way from the strong winds of earlier. It reminded him, briefly, of the job in Germany, the one Arthur missed.
"I assume," Eames said, "that you could still see reasonably well when you were playing point man for us earlier?"
"Of course," Arthur replied, sounding a bit miffed. "I wouldn't put you guys at risk. That's why I hadn't been going under in the PASIV building sessions with Ariadne."
"But you said you didn't because you needed the normal sleep—"
"I know what I said!"
Eames raised his eyebrows at that snappish exclamation and Arthur's stricken face was enough to see he regretted saying that.
"I shouldn't have yelled at you. Sorry," he apologised softly.
Waving it off, Eames said, "Don't worry, you're stressed; these things happen. But what's wrong with the PASIV? Does it make your eyesight worse?"
"No, quite the opposite, actually. I told you this before, didn't I? I can see perfectly in my dreams."
"The issue with the PASIV being—?" Eames cut himself off mid-question. "No, wait, you don't mean—" and Eames gasped softly in realisation "—you're scared you'll forget reality, aren't you?"
Arthur made a pained choking noise and started to shake his head before sitting forward and holding his head between his hands. He was nodding and he pulled out a blood-red die. A totem Eames had only seen twice before.
"I can't see it roll to three," Arthur admitted, an edge of hysteria in his voice. "I think I can feel it roll to three, but I can't be sure. And the idea of turning completely blind might just make me give up and let myself be hooked to the PASIV all the time, and that's got to be worse than dying—"
Without really meaning to, Eames grabbed Arthur's wrist; fortunately not the hand holding the die. He still had some self-preservation instincts because you never made a grab at an extractor's totem. Either way, it didn't look like Arthur noticed.
"—and what's worse is that I mightn't be able to see in my dreams. I might just go under and my dream scapes will be black, pitch black of night. Does going blind mean everything will disappear?"
"Arthur. Arthur!" Eames half-shouted, tightening his grip on the wrist. "Listen to me."
Milky eyes turned his way, brown irises obscured seemingly by a thin layer of fog. They looked at Eames, not concentrating perfectly on his face, but it was clear he saw Eames. From the reflection in the lenses of the glasses, Eames could see himself, pink-cheeked from the cold and a worried look painting his features.
"Listen to me," he repeated slowly. "I know you're far more stubborn than this. You can get through this. I will help you. The team will help you." His free hand moved of its own violation and gently touched Arthur's face. "Adapting to hardship was always one of your strong points."
Arthur shuddered and his shoulders straightened minutely, as if a great weight had been lifted off them.
"Sorry. You're right. I can work with this." He nodded as his face contorted into one of deep concentration. Suddenly he looked at Eames and said, "Thanks."
"No worries," Eames shrugged. "Want me to make a cup of tea?"
"Please." He took of his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, and the sight gave Eames a flashback of when they were younger and had just started using dream sharing to steal with. It seemed far too long ago.
"Two sugars, squeeze of lemon for you, yes?" Eames stood and patted Arthur on his shoulder.
"I shouldn't be surprised you remember." Actually, Arthur didn't look surprised, even though he had only drunk tea around Eames on a bare handful of occasions and that was a long time ago.
"I'm a forger, darling. Micking people is what I do best and the details are important," he said with an easy grin. "We can talk about what to do about the totem mishap once I'm back."
He only noticed as he left the room that his other scarf—the one he used to stem the bleeding in Arthur's arm all those months ago—was hanging off the back of the chair at the desk, cleaned of blood and looking oddly cared for.
One corner of the warehouse had been commandeered by Ariadne. She was wearing denim overalls and long sleeves even with the heat wave that made the spring feel like summer. Most of her hair was tied in a ponytail, and the straggling bits were stuck to her skin from a mix of sweat and paint.
Surrounding her were opened buckets of paint and brushes. Colours were everywhere: on the walls, the floors, on Ariadne herself. There was no real order but chaos to the painting, but it was a lovely kind of chaos Ariadne was apt at pulling off flawlessly.
What had fuelled her sudden desire for an artistic outlet was Arthur. She wanted to make something amazing for him to see. Especially since his eyesight was fading more and more with every passing day. Now he saw misshapen blurs of primary colours.
The girl was an optimist if she thought he could see her art; Eames had to give her that. But it was the thought that counted in the end.
"Why didn't you show me this before?" Yusuf asked, a frown marring his features. He looked contemplative as he shone a small penlight in Arthur's eyes, noting how the pupils barely dilated. Yusuf had come to France only yesterday, shocked to hear about Arthur's deteriorating eyesight.
"Didn't know you could help," Arthur said unapologetically as he half-shrugged, clearly trying not to move too much with Yusuf's hand so well placed to poke him in the eye.
"In this case, I can't help. From what I can tell, your cataracts are spreading abnormally fast."
"Thank you for your expert opinion," Arthur said sarcastically, but not unkindly. All of them could see how nervous he was and didn't fault him for it.
"I do have a degree in medicine," Yusuf ignored the slight for the most part, pocketing the light and stepping back. "I thought you knew."
"How'd you figure that?" Arthur asked, putting his glasses back on. There was no hint of brown in the irises these days; it was almost entirely a dirty white colour.
"Well, there's the fact I'm the chemist, and well, you're..." Yusuf waved his hand up and down, as if it encapsulated what exactly Arthur was.
Even though he didn't see it clearly, he seemed to get the message and said in a somewhat amused voice, "Contrary to popular belief, I don't run background checks on all you guys."
"Just me!" Eames called out from where he was watching them and Ariadne simultaneously. The girl was surprisingly violent with her paintbrushes; the sight was rather amusing.
"Yes, Eames," Arthur laughed. "Just you."
"What about me?" Ariadne asked, pausing in her painting to wipe some sweat from her brow.
"Professor Miles backed you. That man's word is as good as gold."
Looking satisfied, Ariadne turned back to the wall and attacked it viciously with a purple brush in her left hand and a green-soaked sponge in her right. Though Eames couldn't be sure, he thought she might have been painting an elephant. Or a turtle. It really was hard to tell; she was getting more abstract.
On the table beside him, Arthur was compulsively rolling his totem every few minutes, his hand feeling at the deep grooves where the dots used to be. Eames suggested the idea, and Arthur carried it out carefully by hand, making sure the holes wouldn't affect the lie of the weight. So while he couldn't see the three dots, he could clearly feel the trio of holes embedded in the plastic.
"Come on now," Yusuf interrupted, pulling a silver case from underneath a desk. "It's time to see if you can dream."
"Depth perception's a little off," Eames commented casually as his hand missed the pen he was reaching for yet again. "Colours are a bit subdued and—"
"What?" Arthur asked, eyes bright and brown and darting around in suppressed excitement that at least here he could see.
"It's just the other things—smells, sounds, touch, taste—they're all far stronger. Your senses must be adapting to the loss."
"That's something, at least."
Cocking his head to the side in curiosity, Eames asked, "Can you tell that there's something off?"
"Yes and no," Arthur admits. "I'm kind of just amazed I can see, but I know what I'm seeing now isn't like before."
It was strange to be in a lucid dream—Arthur's lucid dream—alone, just the pair of them. Yusuf was checking Arthur's vitals up top, Ariadne was distracted with her artwork, and Dom was in America, finalising the sale of his old home. Even projections were giving them leeway.
"Hey, Arthur," Eames called softly, an idea sparking in his mind like a dying fireworks explosion.
When Arthur was looking his way, Eames raised his hand and shifted a corner of library—a hurriedly made platform for the dream, all tarnished metal bookshelves and worn out carpet—into a replica of the warehouse. He waved his hand a little and colour burst from nowhere, shaping into the art Ariadne was so set on making for Arthur.
"What are you—" Arthur began to ask, but then Eames shook his head and cut him off with a hushing noise.
He pulled up a small stage from his imagination, his projections of Phillipa and James dancing in their little costumes of a giraffe and zebra, respectively. It was the play Arthur missed; he heard the music but couldn't see them.
Eames saw the realisation light up his face and couldn't stop grinning himself, edging closer to Arthur when the kids started jumping up and down, singing off-key.
Pulling a book from a shelf, Eames filled the blank pages with words from some German book he'd read on the last job. It was mainly about philosophy, not quite Arthur's taste, but learning Braille was a slower chore than initially anticipated and Arthur hadn't read anything new in ages.
Clapping Arthur on the back, he handed him the book. Silently mouthing the title written in golden ink on the cover, Arthur gasped under his breath, "Oh."
"Since you can't see," Eames said lightly, "I figured I might as well see for you."
Arthur looked at Eames with an oddly touched expression, brown eyes soft and almost glowing. They darted down to the embossed letter of the book and then back to Eames, almost shyly.
"Thanks." He paused and added, "I will deny this vehemently should you ever repeat this, but... you help make all this—" he waved at his face, eyes specifically "—tolerable."
"Just doing what I can to help, love."
If his hand lingered on Arthur's back for a few heartbeats longer than was normally appropriate, neither of them commented on it.
"Was that really necessary?" Arthur groaned, cracking his neck around, trying to ward off some phantom pain.
Eames nodded, then remembered himself and said, "Yeah. What's the point if I don't push you?" But he was frowning, too. He hated having to attack Arthur, even in a dream.
They were using the PASIV to re-teach Arthur fighting. They would create a variety of playing grounds—courtesy of Ariadne and occasionally Dom, when he felt up to it—and test Arthur's capacity for fighting. Of course they'd blindfold him in the dream so that he was wholly reliant on other senses.
Arthur hadn't quite lost all of his proficiency with a gun—if he heard the target move; he nearly always hit it, though there was some issue with momentary deafness from the resounding bang—and was regaining his old abilities with hand-to-hand combat. Instinct was a huge player in physical combat, even with eyesight, so his skill wasn't totally decimated.
In fact, he was getting confident enough that they'd had a few real world physical fights, and Arthur fared astoundingly well, considering. He wasn't at a level to deal with multiple projections, but he was learning fast.
What Arthur was having trouble with was using a sword or a crowbar to fight with. Still, he refused to give up and insisted Eames keep sparring with him.
It was somewhat ironic that this was the first time in years that they were using the PASIV device for its original purpose: to train soldiers.
After ripping out the IV, Eames stood and stretched, flipping his totem across his knuckles, the crack in the plastic nipping his skin with every pass, showing it was reality. The branches outside the warehouse were bright with green leaves bursting from branches fresh from winter hibernation. Colourful weeds were visible from here, their flowers surrounded by a multitude of hovering insects.
Though none of them were quite as colourful as the mural Ariadne left in the corner of the warehouse. She kept changing it when the mood struck her. Eames was pretty sure as of now, it was meant to be a phoenix. Or some poor bird on fire, but he didn't take her as one to be so sadistic.
"Can you—? Ah, never mind," Arthur said hastily, rolling down his sleeves and ducking his head. If he didn't know better, Eames would swear that pinkish hue on Arthur's cheek was a blush. But it wasn't; couldn't be.
"No, what is it?" Eames persisted.
Arthur started packing away the IV tubes into the PASIV with the ease that bespoke of familiarity. The loud click of the case shutting had an ominous tone to it. "It's nothing."
"You started it."
"You're seriously going with that immature line of argument?"
"Only you're here to see it."
Yusuf was back in Mombasa, missing the heat and his little shop. Ariadne and Cobb were on a low key job that needed extraction from a child. It would be simple, no more than a two-man job, but since Ariadne had no experience seeing the subconscious mind of a child, he took her. And Eames; he had offers from China to Australia, but he'd turned them all down.
He supposed he just didn't feel like travelling. Not quite yet.
"Come on," Eames pressed. "What is it?"
"I was wondering," Arthur hesitated and then continued in a rush, "whether or not you wouldn't mind coming over my house?"
Eames didn't reply immediately, digesting the information, and then Arthur said quickly, voice slightly panicky, "Not for anything! I'm not assuming anything! It's just really dull and quiet there—"
"Stop, love, calm down," Eames chuckled. "It's fine, really; I don't mind giving you some company."
"Thanks. I mean," Arthur scratched the back of his head. "Yeah. Thanks."
At the time, the request and acceptance were more than innocent enough. It was just later, when they were on the couch together, Eames reading Arthur a new book he'd bought in normal print because a Braille version didn't exist yet, that things changed. He had stopped mid sentence and told Arthur that his eyes—foggy white eyes—were beautiful.
Arthur kissed Eames. It was impulsive but felt somehow inevitable. He missed the lips and got the cheek, but the intention was there. Then Eames dropped the book, grabbed Arthur's chin and showed him where to direct his attentions.
That was when Eames learned that Arthur had grown surprisingly sensitive since losing his eyesight. A fact he exploited wickedly and repeatedly.
The team had talked about getting Arthur some black glasses and a cane—and maybe a dog, until they learned Arthur was more of a cat person at heart. Though really, Arthur wanted none of that. Well, until Eames found a sort of bamboo stick at a black market op-shop that could pull the handle out to display a rather impressive blade.
Ariadne had shaken her head and muttered something about, "Boys will be boys."
So Arthur, though now declarable as completely blind, was dead set against covering his eyes and only carried the bamboo stick around because he found the idea of having a concealed weapon more tolerable than a walking aid. It was a bitch to get through airport security sometimes, but it was hard to argue against a blind man. Not to mentions the references Eames made for Arthur were utterly impeccable.
Right now, the team were in France's infamous countryside, doubly relaxing since they didn't need to pass the trials of the airport. Strangely enough, none of them—bar Ariadne—had actually been to the countryside and it was fortunate that the job landed them on what was essentially a holiday. Ironically, they were checked in a Fischer hotel.
"He's the bastard that just keeps on giving, isn't he?" Eames pointed out with a laugh.
Dom rolled his eyes and tried to engage Arthur in a conversation about the client's uncle; he wanted to know about the exact parameters of the job, but his point man was sidetracked by the hotel's outside café and garden. The smells of the foods and flowers, the excited chatter of foreign tourists and feel of sunshine and gravelly underfoot were all very distracting.
"Arthur!" Cobb finally barked out of irritation. It was hard to take him seriously when he was wearing a floppy straw sunhat and Phillipa was pulling on his arm.
Arthur turned to face Cobb with a dazed smile on his face before shaking himself out of it. On one of the ornate little tables—decorated with curved white metal in the shape of vines and a top made of glass—he opened a battered leather suitcase and began sorting through the files, feeling for the little Braille labels he'd stuck atop each one so he could organise everything.
It turned out that there were such things as Braille printers and label makers, and it was little difficulty finding a program that could read out text from a computer. Technology was fascinating, but more than that, it helped Arthur stay as point man.
Either it was kudos to Arthur's skill or a shame about others' that he was still the best in the business. Now really, when they couldn't get more dirt on a target than a blind man who refused a walking aid, it was something to be ashamed of. Then again, they couldn't mimic Arthur's voice when he was on the phone coercing the information out of his many unnamed sources—it was like a pendulum, either a seductive purr or a deadly calm threat.
On the odd occasion someone tried to attack him face-to-face, they'd inevitably lower their guard when they saw the milky-white eyes and Arthur would unsheathe his blade and cut them down. He lost none of his speed or ruthlessness, even though he had to relearn certain skills to compensate. Ariadne would ask why he didn't use his gun, and Arthur would mumble some excuse of the blade being easier—since he couldn't see the target anymore—but Eames would secretly grin like a madman knowing Arthur was beginning to get fond of the 'blasted bamboo stick'.
In the end, being blind wasn't so much a handicap for Arthur. It was a fucking huge mountain he had to climb over to reign victorious, but once he did that, it was incredible. And Eames couldn't be more proud of him.
"Did you want two rooms or one?"
Eames looked down to see Ariadne waiting for his answer, single eyebrow raised in silent mirth as if she'd already guessed the answer.
He said, "One," at the exact moment as Arthur said, "Two."
Ariadne's eyebrow rose even higher in response and Eames raised one finger and mouthed the number, winking. With uncanny accuracy, Arthur's eyes found out Eames and sent a stern glare his way.
"Eames," he hissed, "Cobb brought his kids with him."
"So? That shouldn't mean I get cockbloc—"
"Language," snapped Dom without looking up from one of the many files Arthur had handed him. Phillipa was still tugging on the edge of his sleeve, quietly asking to get something from the gift shop. She never whined, like other kids; it was strange, but she was pretty persistent in the near silent sulking technique.
Arthur's influence knew no bounds.
Clearing his throat, Eames changed track, crouching down so he was at eye level with Phillipa.
"Yes, Uncle Eames?" she looked at him instead of her dad, gaze curious and slightly suspicious. Arthur's influence, definitely, he decided with a small grin.
"If I had to stay in Arthur's room so I could help him see all the furniture and not bump into anything, would that be okay with you?" This wasn't a lie, per se, because Eames would certainly help Arthur find the bed, the floor, and maybe the couch—
"Uncle Arthur never bumps into anything at home though," she declared, openly distrusting now, her free hand twisting at her hair.
Behind her, Arthur was crossing his arms and leaning against the table, grinning widely as he listened. Ariadne was unsuccessfully hiding her smirk behind her hands.
Yusuf, previously unengaged with the conversation—he was entertaining James by showing him various insects of the garden—looked up from a butterfly resting on a tulip and said in a dry voice, "Surely Arthur's bumped into a few things." He gave Eames a pointed look.
Phillipa, thankfully oblivious, shook her head and said, "No, he doesn't."
"Yes, well," Eames paused for a moment and then lowered his voice conspiratorially, "This is a different part of France, now isn't it? He's never been to the country."
Phillipa let go of her dad's sleeve and stopped twirling her hair. She straightened up and crossed her arms.
"It's okay. I'm eight now. I know these things." Nodding confidently, she stepped closer and whispered (unintentionally loud), "Dad explained it. Mummies and daddies are allowed to share rooms because they love each other very, very much."
"Oh?" Eames shot an amused look at Cobb, who was suddenly watching the conversation with interest. "So who's the mummy in this relationship?"
"You, obviously," Phillipa laughed.
"What?" Eames spluttered while the others laughed.
"You wear pink," she said simply, her attention slipping. Phillipa started tugging on Dom's sleeve, quietly muttering about something she saw in the gift shop. Cobb, the bastard, nodded and lifted her on his shoulders, taking her to the shop probably to get away from Eames, who was rightfully considering murder. Or at the very least, shooting him in the head the next time they dream shared.
Unable to tone down her shit-eating grin, Ariadne walked off as well, saying over her shoulder, "I'll confirm you lot as one room then. Since you're both married and have Phillipa's approval." There was a decidedly wicked edge to her cackling laughter.
Arthur groaned into his hand, but he was smiling beneath that. Quietly as Eames could, he sidled up beside the man, gently taking one calloused hand in his own.
Leaning down to whisper, he offered, "Once we get the room keys, I really should give you a tour so you know where things are."
"—invalid, yes I know," Eames huffed, impatient. Then he continued in a smoother voice, "It's just that I thought you'd like help finding the bed, the floor and the—"
"—shower?" Arthur's grin was positively evil, and he'd slid his arm around Eames' waist in a comfortable, familiar gesture.
"Not what I was thinking, but definitely on the list now, love."
"Eames, you are utterly incorrigible."
"I think the word you're really looking for is 'irreplaceable'."
Arthur laughed and shook his head; his clouded eyes lit up with mirth, corners crinkling with laugh lines. Grabbing his suitcase and bamboo stick, he indicated forwards.
"Let's go start that tour then, shall we?"
A/N: IDEK how I got this word count (9500+?). *Facepalm*.
I did it! I wrote romance without one character telling the other that they loved them. XD
Enjoyed this? Yay or nay? Please do tell. And leave cookies.