Eames' dreamscapes have always been a little unusual.
Arthur attributes this to his odd European brand of imagination, and to his propensity to boredom in ordinary environments, and therefore the occasional splashes of gaudy colour and offbeat detail do not strike him as particularly strange.
He is a point man, though, and his eyes are sharper than anyone else's.
Nonetheless, when he passes by Eames in the warehouse, he doesn't realise that he has been staring at the same page of sparse, handwritten notes for ten whole minutes, and that his left hand is balled into a tight fist, the taut chain of his pocket watch cutting into his flesh.
The sky is black.
Not cloudy. That would be ordinary. It looks as if someone has peeled the sky away and left only a gaping black hole in its place, a wide open wound. Below the black horizon, the world is comprised of sad, dying buildings, a skyline like a mouthful of grey, crumbling teeth.
Eames walks through empty streets and talks to people he can't see.
When Eames sleeps, he is a dead weight.
He sleeps like a stone, pressed against the mattress, and nobody can wake him until he's good and ready. He's the same when dreaming. It doesn't matter how violent his headspace is. His limbs remain perfectly still. He does not even twitch.
Arthur doesn't admit it, but he's always found this profoundly creepy.
It rains incessantly.
It rains so hard that great chunks of concrete are prised from the sides of skyscrapers, and plummet to earth in thunderous unison. They crash down to earth, sending plumes of water ten feet into the air.
It is like limbo, this place, but it's not so; Eames has created it for purpose. Somehow, there is a bleak romance in a dying dreamscape.
Sometimes he dreams of fucking Arthur, out here, in the streaming rain.
They complete the Ingram job with an efficiency that satisfies Arthur, a smooth operation that plays out almost automatically. It is, he reflects, how it ought to be, with a team of such fine young minds – they are merely there to play their parts. The wheels roll of their own accord.
He suggests they celebrate with a drink and nobody disagrees.
Ariadne gets drunk, because she is feather light and insists on drinking elaborately named cocktails with umbrellas in them. Cobb loosens up, just a little bit, and Arthur thinks he can see the fragile beginnings of the healing process starting to take effect. He supposes Cobb would be unaware of it himself.
Eames gets spectacularly wasted, as is his custom. He once explained to Arthur that the key to a happy life was to be able to escape from the crushing inevitability of the everyday. "And that," he had said, raising his glass of Jack and Coke high, "is why I am duty bound to get rat-arsed as often as is sensible."
"Are you ever sensible?" Arthur had asked, and Eames had pulled him into a wobbly one-armed bear hug and told him that sensibility was, in reality, quite overrated.
Eames disappears for weeks.
Arthur muses upon the contradiction between a man self-professed to be allergic to routine, and the almost meticulous frequency with which Eames vanishes and reappears, a magician working to timetable.
Arthur looks at the calendar on his wall (adorned with bright, gaudy pictures of impractically fast sports cars – Eames had been surprised) and pinpoints the date Eames will return.
He is never wrong.
The Desouza job is well underway by the time Eames comes back.
"You're late," Arthur remarks, out of curiosity rather than malice.
Eames smirks, but doesn't reply. Cobb whisks him away, no doubt to give him the condensed series of events so far, and to ask him where the hell he's been, as if Eames would ever tell him.
Arthur returns to his reading, and contemplates going out for coffee.
The edges of his dreamworld are starting to warp, to bend inwards. Solid structures bleed slowly into the empty space around them. Colours seem dulled, as if seen through dark glasses. From a distance, it is as if everything has been pinched inwards and pulled apart, moulded by indiscriminate hands.
The fabric of the dream is starting to tear, and Eames is barely aware of it, sitting in an apartment that loosely resembles his own, watching Arthur undress.
It isn't real. But it scarcely matters.
This time, Eames twitches in his sleep.
It is barely perceptible but Arthur notices. It is his job to notice. His arms jerk ever so slightly, his fingers curling against the arms of the lawn chair. Then he is still.
Arthur observes him silently for ten minutes. He doesn't move again.
He puts it down to the coffee Eames had been drinking, but in the back of his mind he knows that can't be right.
Arthur tells himself he's being ridiculous. Nonetheless, he makes sure he is there when Eames wakes up. The normality of Eames' adjustment to the waking world placates him somewhat, but he is a master of disguise, and Arthur knows just how practised he is at the art of deception.
In his dreams, Arthur always carries a gun. It's Arthur's own fault, really; the way he moves with a weapon in his hands is extraordinary. An art form. He moves with grace, his long limbs taut, and delivers the killing blow as if it were nothing at all. He rarely misses, because he lines up each shot with precision, aiming with unnaturally steady hands.
So his projections of Arthur always carry a gun. And recently, when Eames finds himself ready to exit the dream, he has taken to having Arthur deliver the shot between the eyes. It's fundamentally fucked up and Eames knows it, but he can't help himself; the concentration knotting Arthur's brow as he aims, the barely repressed satisfaction in his eyes – it's the finest way to die, however small the death may be.
He watches with rapt interest as Arthur dissembles the weapon, reducing it to individual parts, each one as perfect and precise as the last.
Arthur's curiosity, once piqued, is a difficult thing to ignore.
He observes Eames while he sleeps, and Ariadne nudges him in the ribs with one slender elbow and says "I didn't know you cared."
He even tries entering the dream, just the once, because he just has to know what's in there, and he immediately finds himself assailed by projections. Hundreds of them, swarming like ants, grasping blindly at him. Somewhere in the chaos, he loses a shoe. He keeps running; it's just a fucking shoe, after all, and dream pain is too real to risk for the sake of footwear.
He doesn't get very far. The projections are everywhere. Eames' mind is a fortress, and with good reason; he has seen inception work. He does not want to fall victim to it.
When Arthur wakes up, he glances at Eames, twitching violently in his sleep, and reaches for the dice he keeps in his pocket. It rolls with smooth ease and lands, as he had expected, on six.
He finds Eames' pocket watch two days later, abandoned beneath the lawn chair.
Arthur picks it up. It is cool to the touch and immediately he can feel, beneath practised fingers, the intricate pattern carved into the rim of the case, a series of swirling designs that run the circumference. Against his better instinct, he flips it open. There are no hands. The time is whatever Eames deems it to be. Clever, Arthur thinks.
But the watch is here, and Eames is not, and the abnormality of the situation sparks a peculiar unease; the forger is nowhere near sloppy enough to forget his totem, and worse, to leave it lying around in the open. Eames is as paranoid as any of them, although his perpetually laid-back demeanour would suggest otherwise.
Eames sometimes complains that Arthur lacks imagination, but he is quite wrong, and he knows it. Arthur's imagination is structured and precise, extraordinarily efficient, and compliments his acute sense of perception as if he'd been built for purpose.
It is both his imagination and his perception which leads him to hastily shrug on his jacket and leave the warehouse. He doesn't tell Cobb where he's going, and true to form, Cobb doesn't ask him.
Arthur has to shin up a drainpipe, because Eames is not answering his doorbell.
The first floor window is open, mercifully, and he slips through like a cat-burglar, landing smoothly on his feet. At first glance, the apartment seems empty. Everything in its right place. He is surprised at Eames' organisation.
"You shouldn't be here."
The voice comes from the other side of the room, and Arthur has to squint; the curtains are drawn and room is quite dim. Eames is stretched out on the sofa. He looks drunk, or perhaps half asleep. His expression is blank, eyes empty. It makes Arthur nervous.
"You left your watch," Arthur says. He holds it out. He does not like being in possession of Eames' totem. The intimacy of it is claustrophobic. Eames looks mildly interested for a moment. Then he shrugs.
"It's okay." There is a faraway tone to his voice, as if he's not really here, in the room, but a long way away. He doesn't look at Arthur.
Arthur sighs. "Well, look," he says, placing the watch carefully down on the coffee table. "Just...don't leave your totem lying around. It's dangerous."
Eames tips him a salute. He is still not making eye contact. "Duly noted, Arthur. Now perhaps you'd like to leave a man in peace?"
Arthur stares at him for a long time.
When Arthur is gone, Eames kicks his pocket watch beneath the sofa, where it will lie forgotten, slowly gathering dust, and falls into a blank, dreamless sleep.
Eames forgets about his totem until he next goes under; instinctively, he reaches into his inner pocket but it is empty, and he is surprised only for a moment before remembering it is deliberate.
He walks without purpose through the featureless dream-city, and as the rain slowly soaks him to the bone, he wonders how long he would have to be here before he eventually forgets he is dreaming.
Suddenly, the dream goes black
and Eames is back in the warehouse; he blinks slowly as the remnants of the somnacin clear from his system and his brain adjusts to the waking world once again.
Arthur is standing in front of him, holding the IV wire in one hand. Eames looks down at his arm, at the bright blood trickling from the removal site.
"What is bloody wrong with you?" he asks, angry.
Arthur rolls the wire between his thumb and forefinger. "Stop fucking with me, Eames," he says, and Eames pauses mid-motion, struggling out of the lawn chair. "Something has gone very wrong here, and I'll be damned if I'm just going to pretend it hasn't."
"Don't worry Arthur," he responds, and the 'Arthur' is loaded with spite. "I won't jeopardise the efficiency of this job."
In Arthur's mind, he has a clear idea of how this might pan out; they exchange cross words, Eames skulks off, putting a continent's worth of distance between them, and returns when he thinks Arthur will have shaken off his Nancy Drew complex. He does not intend to allow this to happen.
"I don't care about the job."
Eames barely reacts.
"Mal was enough," Arthur says, and this time Eames looks up. He reacts to Mal's name with a raised eyebrow, as if Arthur is somehow breaking a taboo. "I won't have the same thing happen to you."
There is a long, uncomfortable moment in which Arthur stares at Eames, and Eames stares back because he can't think of anything else to say.
Eames skulks away, and Arthur follows.
When Eames wakes up, his head is pillowed on Arthur's lap, and Arthur is absently stroking his hair with long, thin fingers.
It takes him a moment to register the strangeness of the situation. He tries to move, but his entire body is one big ache.
"I'm afraid," Arthur says quietly.
"Of what?" Eames' mouth hurts, and he thinks he can taste blood, a sharp acid tang on the end of his tongue. For some reason, he cannot quite remember what transpired between leaving the warehouse and right now, and the hard look on Arthur's face tells him it is better he does not know.
Arthur doesn't answer. His shirt is stained with dried blood, and his hair is a mess of knots and clumps. In the dim light, Eames thinks he can see a bruise blooming on Arthur's jaw.
Eames presses his face into Arthur's thigh, and Arthur's fingers skim his cheek, his smooth fingertips feather light, tracing perfect circles into his skin.
He does not know whether he is dreaming or not.
Beneath the sofa, surrounded by clumped dust, the pocket watch is silent.