Author's Note: So this is my very first Arthur/Eames! Hope you'll like it!
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters of this story.
Eames was a gambler. Not always, but on certain special occasions he was. Being at the casino was something he'd always enjoyed. The sound of jangling coins was the sound of people defying Lady Fortuna. It was thrilling to watch, and even more fun to see them fail.
Eames himself was a gambler, too, but only on certain special occasions. Today wasn't one of those, so he just sat there in the corner with a drink in his hands. So you could say he was quite happy when his phone started ringing – at least until he read the name on the display. It showed a first name, Arthur, and below a last name, that mysteriously no one ever seemed to care about. Eames didn't, either. He would never need a last name to figure out who Arthur was. There was only one Arthur he knew, and as far as he could tell, that was very much enough.
Although he would have been perfectly fine with a little less... demanding distraction, he picked up nevertheless. "Arthur!" he greeted with a happy voice. "What a pleasant surprise! And by pleasant, I mean unpleasant."
"Ah, Eames, charming as always," Arthur replied with that specific mixture of amusement and annoyance in his voice, that Eames had never heard of anyone else than Arthur. "But be assured that the unpleasant pleasure is all mine."
"Perfect, that means we're even," Eames replied. "So what can I do for you? If you don't mind then please hurry up. Roaming fees are insane down here."
"I got a job offer for you," Arthur stated the obvious.
"What could it be that makes you long for my expertise?"
"Nothing," Arthur replied bluntly. "It's a mystery to me, too, but Cobb wants you with us. I would have just gone with Freddy, but you can't always get what you want, right? So, that's I all can tell you. Take it or leave it."
"In that case, I will just take it," Eames said with a grin. "I would never miss a job that you don't want me to take." He could hear Arthur sigh at that, and it was enough to make him smile contently. "Just tell me where you are at the moment and I will take the next flight to get to you, mpenzi wangu."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Arthur replied, rolling his eyes. On occasion, Eames used that Swahili expression on him, without ever informing him of its meaning. It was either an insult or a pet name. Knowing Eames, Arthur wouldn't be surprised if the other man had finally found a term that was both at the same time. He'd just google it, but there was no way he could ever figure out how to spell that. So he let it go, like always. "It's the usual spot in Madrid, so just try to be there by Sunday, okay?"
Eames grinned in anticipation. "Definitely."
Two days later, Eames arrived at Madrid and went to the vacant apartment close to the city center that Cobb and Arthur usually used when they had a mission going on in Spain. To his surprise, he found the entire Fischer job crew there, minus Saito, obviously. Ariadne and Yusuf had also accepted their offers. It was nice seeing them all again and for a brief moment Eames refused to accept the thought that it felt a bit like coming home. No. He had been on so many missions before with so many different teams and people. Cobb's team wasn't special to him. Of course not.
"How's Mombasa?" Yusuf asked immediately and Eames could tell that he regretted not going back there just as much as he was at the same time happy about it.
"Same as always," Eames replied with a playful shrug. "A bit chilly. Only had twenty degrees last week."
Arthur snorted at that. "Yeah right. And did it snow, too? Come on, temperature in Kenya never drops under fifty degrees. A child knows that."
Eames gave him an amused smile. "We're talking Celsius here, sweetheart."
"How come you know so much about Kenya, Arthur?" Yusuf asked. "Have you been there before?"
"No, he hasn't," Eames replied in Arthur's place. "He's just lacking attention."
"Oh, Yusuf," Ariadne came in from another room. "Could you come and take a look at this? I think I need some help."
"Yeah, sure." Yusuf went with her, leaving Arthur and Eames on their own.
Arthur, obviously acting a bit sulky now, turned his attention back to whatever he had been doing before Eames had arrived. So Eames just sat there and waited.
Not even five minutes later, fortunately, Cobb arrived at the apartment as well and started to brief them on the job, at least on those facts that they hadn't already figured out from Arthur's constant allusions.
Apparently, the mark was Jacinto Bosque, a retired military officer, on whom they were supposed to perform some borderline-inception. Nothing nearly as big as the Fischer job, obviously. It was more of an attitude thing. His past had turned Bosque into a cold and bossing person. Apparently, his entire family was suffering under his authoritarian and even tyrannical behavior. His oldest son, Santos Bosque, was the one paying them for the job. The plan – in short – consisted of having Santos killed right before his father's eyes in the safe environment of the dream, to give the latter a reminder of the things that really matter in life, those things you only treasure when they're gone, or so people say.
"It'll be easy," Dom Cobb assured them, even though he was usually the wary one. "The only reason we're going two layers deep is to assure the feeling gets anchored properly in his subconscious. Otherwise the plan simply consists of taking Santos to his father and shooting him under his eyes, before security even realizes we're there."
It actually seemed like easy money and so the entire team proclaimed that they were in.
As simple as it seemed, the actual job became a disaster. On the second dream level, Jacinto Bosque entrenched himself in an old Spanish fortress, with his subconscious security shooting at Cobb's team from the high stone walls as if it were a military operation.
Then – as they were taking cover to come up with a new plan, worst case scenario became reality: Santos Bosque got shot by security bullets – not in front of his father's eyes, but unspectacularly in the trenches around the fortress.
"Santos, no!" Cobb tried to keep him inside their dream level, but it was too late. He paled. "He must have fallen into limbo."
"No, fortunately not," Yusuf told him. "It was part of the plan to get him shot, that's why I adjusted his sedation to a much lighter version than ours. The shot woke him, I'm sure."
"Good for him – still bad for us," Arthur reminded them. "We lost him and there won't be a chance for a second attempt."
"Can't we get hold of Bosque's projection of Santos?" Ariadne, who was taking cover next to Arthur, suggested. "If we can find him and bring him here–"
"There won't be a projection now that the real Santos has been on this dream level," Cobb shook his head immediately. "The subconscious never creates duplicates, unless forced to, by – for example–"
"Forgery," Eames finished his sentence and looked up at his teammates. "There is still one possibility left for him to see his son die on this very level."
"But, Eames!" Ariadne objected. "You mustn't let yourself get shot on purpose!"
"She's right!" Yusuf agreed immediately. "Just because Santos woke from the shot doesn't mean you will, too. Our sedation is more than five times stronger than his. You'll end up in limbo."
"Not necessarily," Eames shrugged. "I could end up on level three just as likely. You could get me out once this mission is over."
"Even if you managed to avoid limbo, you would get stuck for months before we get you out," Arthur reminded him. "Are you really willing to take all that risk?"
"I'm a gambler, Arthur," Eames replied. "At least on some occasions." He got up on his feet, still stooping behind his cover as the volley kept raging over their heads. "I'll do it. I just hope you'll raise my pay accordingly."
"Then this is your chance, Eames!" Cobb yelled, his voice rattling against the gunshots. "Now or never!"
Eames clutched his gun tighter, then looked over his shoulder at his companions, still crouching to keep under cover. They were looking back at him, Ariadne, next to her Arthur, over there Yusuf and Cobb on the far right. Some of them were nodding in encouragement, but it didn't help. In contrast to what he had said, Eames knew it would be a journey without return for him.
Such a shame. This is the end.
"Alright," he said, getting up with one of his merry-to-go smiles, but then he hesitated and suddenly came walking back to them. He got down on his knees right in front of Arthur without showing anything but determination in his eyes, not explaining anything to all those confused looks the others gave him.
From the pocket of his jacket he pulled out a plain, dark pen. "This one belongs to you," he said, handing it to Arthur.
Arthur took it with a puzzled face.
Eames didn't explain. He just laid his hand around Arthur's neck, closed his eyes and kissed him.
Those few precious seconds, the world faded around him. Cobb and the others disappeared to hollow shadows. The gunshots stopped midair, as did his own heartbeat. The affection he'd always been feeling towards Arthur had been unbearable, but something wonderful – one of the best things in his life so far. The euphoria a single, reprimanding look from Arthur could make him feel was worth more than anything else he could imagine.
Now, this affection rose even more, and he was sure that Arthur would feel it. Maybe it would confuse him, even more than he already had to be confused right now, with that frown on his forehead that was definitely there, with his body almost drawing back, but now quite, with his lips kissing him back more out of a reflex than out of anything else.
But dear Lord, he felt so good, so perfect, so real and alive, even though this was merely a dream.
No kiss in the real world could have made him feel that excited, that anxious and that blissful at the same time.
Eames knew that he had to stop though, better now with Arthur kissing him back than wait until he would push him away.
He opened his eyes and sat back on his ankles. Then he got up, without even glancing at Arthur. "I've been wanting to do this," he simply murmured, shouldered his gun and left for place he needed to be.
Cobb, Yusuf and Ariadne stared at where Eames had been a second ago with their eyes wide open. Not just surprised – shocked even, especially Ariadne, who was still crouching right next to Arthur, and had witnessed that unexpected turn of events from up close. Eames had approached Arthur so straightly, without a single moment of hesitation or indecision. But Arthur!? Why of all people Arthur? If he had wanted a goodbye kiss before walking right into his death, shouldn't it have been more likely for him to kiss pretty Ariadne? So why then Arthur? Why the person he obviously got along the worst of all the team? Was that some kind of ultimate taunt? Or was it…?
"We should get going," Arthur said after a few seconds, not looking anyone in the eyes because he knew he would hate those puzzled, confused looks they each had on their faces. He hated that they were trying to figure out the meaning of all this, before even he himself had the chance to do so. He hated to know that their eyes were right on him, curious to see how he would react to having gotten kissed by Eames.
They wanted to hear him comment on the situation, they wanted him to answer their unspoken questions. They probably wanted to see that he was just as taken aback as they were.
He wasn't going to do them that favor. So he just clutched the gun in his hands even tighter, got up and beckoned them to follow.
There was mud in his hands when Arthur slowly regained consciousness. Cold mud… At first, he was convinced that he had woken up from a dream, but then the memories started to fade back into his mind.
He sat up, realizing that he'd been lying on moist forest soil. He could hear hollow cries of birds from afar.
He brought his hand to his chest. Funny, he seemed alright even though enemy ammo had just perforated him all over. There had been so much blood, that's all he'd managed to notice before all had faded to black. The pain had been too quick to notice. He must have been dead within seconds.
So, what did that mean? Was he stuck somewhere on a different dream level or was that limbo, the front yard of Hell? It didn't feel like it, at least. The world seemed too well constructed, not chaotic and menacing enough. It was a good sign, he decided.
Arthur got up slowly and looked around. If someone else had gotten shot as well, then they had to be around here somewhere. "Hello?" he called, but there was no reply. "Is someone around?"
Slowly, Arthur walked around between the trees. There was something odd about this place that stroke him immediately. It was the layout of the forest that he recognized. He had seen it before, from one of Ariadne's designs. But that had been a city site, not a forest. Something apparently had gotten messed up on the dream level. He wondered what it meant. Was there even a dreamer left in here?
"Arthur!" someone suddenly called.
Arthur blinked and turned around.
Eames hopped off the rock he had been sitting on. "What a pleasant surprise! And by pleasant, I obviously mean unpleasant." Still, he was smiling amusedly. "I would have never thought that of all people you would be the one to get shot! Such a surprise, huh?"
"You got shot, too," Arthur countered.
"Right," Eames agreed, "but me getting shot was part of the plan. Inevitable. As for you, it was simply – as usual – your lack of caution and skill. I hope that'll finally teach you a lesson."
It was my lack of concentration, thanks to you, Arthur thought bitterly, but there was no way he would say that out loud. "Oh, believe me," he replied instead, "being stuck here with you is already lesson enough for me."
"Yes, indeed. Stuck together in limbo," he raised his eyebrow sarcastically. "Lucky us, huh?"
"No, this isn't limbo," Arthur said quietly. "If it was, it would be far more personal and terrifying than just a random forest. I guess it's as you said – we've just fallen down another level. But Cobb will get us out."
"Oh, no doubt he will," Eames agreed with a shrug. "If this is indeed level three and not limbo, then it won't be a problem at all. The question is just when he'll get us out. The only way for it to happen is through a kick, because – as we all know – killing ourselves would just send us deeper down, thanks to the sedation. Now, if they wake up in the real world and it takes them just – say – five minutes to recover from the sedation, to come up with a plan to get us out, to fall back asleep, to go down two levels, to find our dead bodies and get us all out with one coordinated kick, then I can assure you, we'll be stuck down here for at least a month."
Arthur simply shrugged at that and walked on. "As you said – lucky us."
Eames followed him. "Where're you going?"
"We have to look for the others. If someone else is down here, we need to find them."
Eames snorted. "You just want to believe that you're not the only one who sucked bad enough to get killed."
"Easy there," Arthur warned him. "We might need to get along for some time." At that, he paused. "Not too well, of course. After all, I hope I don't have to expect any more weird kisses or – whatever that was."
"You think too high of yourself, darling," Eames replied with a nonchalant face. "It wasn't that good."
They didn't find anyone just by walking around, so after about half an hour, they dreamt of a lost mobile phone lying around on an illegal garbage dump in the woods and they used it to call the others, but apparently there really wasn't anyone around except for them.
So they decided to give up, when they found a huge concrete wall running through the woods. There was a door there and Arthur pulled out a key that fitted the lock. Merry music immediately resounded throughout the room, the mumbling voices of chatting people could be heard. The door swung open wide, and they could see that the room was filled with dressed up people holding glasses of champagne and wine in their hands. Some of them nodded at Arthur when they entered.
The room was filled with expensive furniture made of dark, precious wood. Several floor lamps illuminated the room in a tasteful way. On the far side of the room, they could see a large buffet.
"A party, Arthur?" Eames asked, raising an eyebrow. "To celebrate our first night lost in Nirvana?"
"I didn't create this willingly, Eames," Arthur replied. "It was my subconscious."
"Seriously? The first thing your subconscious came up with was a party? I had a wrong impression of you." Eames' voice sounded quite appreciating.
Arthur, however, replied coldly, "today's my birthday, that's all."
Eames stopped. "Today's– what?!"
As if everyone had heard Arthur's confession, the guests immediately turned around – Eames notices that there were mostly old people around –, still holding onto their glasses, and started striking up Happy Birthday.
Arthur nodded appreciatingly, although it was obvious that he didn't care that much about a birthday song sung to him by his own subconscious.
"Well, in that case," Eames whispered from behind, "my condolences."
"Thank you," Arthur said, after the guests had finished their song and stopped applauding. "Thank you, this is very kind." He made his way through the people who kept padding on his shoulder, with Eames following.
"Where are you going?"
"To my room," Arthur replied, pointing at a wooden door just around the corner. "I'm sure you can get yourself a room, too. Anywhere. It's not that we don't have enough space out here in Nirvana."
It sounded like a joke, but Eames could see from Arthur's face that he was miles away from joking. There was so much bitterness in his eyes, when he closed the door in Eames' face.
Arthur sighed when he sat down at the desk and buried his face in his hands. He felt so terrible and frustrated – again a mission that had ended with someone being stuck in a dream! Arthur was a man of action, of independence. He hated sitting around waiting for Cobb and the others to come and save their asses. He hated sitting around waiting with Eames.
Immediately, the memory of the kiss was present again. He couldn't believe that Eames had actually done something like that. What had that been about? Had it just been another prank in their endless teasing? No, that would have gone too far. To be honest, he felt humiliated, and he couldn't even tell why.
Tired, he rubbed his forehead, then opened a drawer where he found a small laptop. He booted the operating system and opened the internet browser. Maybe he could find something, an idea or a hint how to get out of here. Of course, it wasn't the real internet he was browsing, because obviously he was inside a dream, but using computers to do research in a dream was a good way of doing research inside one's own subconscious. Maybe he had heard about a way to get out of a dream level like this at some point in the past, but couldn't remember anymore, or maybe he had learned of a concept that could serve as a basis for the solution he needed.
About half an hours passed without him finding anything reasonable, when suddenly someone knocked on the door.
"Yes? Eames?" He didn't even have to guess. It was no surprise that Eames couldn't keep himself busy for too long without getting on someone's nerves.
"What are you doing?" Eames asked, leaning in the doorframe. There was a glass of whiskey in his hands.
"I see you're enjoying my birthday party."
Eames lifted his glass. "Oh, that. Well, your friends from the retirement house are starting to feel a little played out, so I thought I'd give them a hand with the beverages."
"What do you want, Eames?" Arthur asked quickly. "It's late."
"So what? As a matter of fact, you're already asleep, dear."
Arthur shook his head and turned back to the computer on his desk.
"Today's your birthday, Arthur," Eames reminded him, but it was more of an invitation than a statement.
Arthur snorted. "I've never cared about birthdays, Eames. And I certainly won't start tonight."
"Well, too bad." He waited for Arthur to get curious. The other, however, didn't.
Eames cleared his throat.
"What?" Arthur said after a while, turning around in his office chair.
"Come on," Eames said, tilting his head. "I know you're allergic to fun, but sometimes a little itching may be worth it."
In hindsight, Arthur couldn't tell what exactly had made him stand up from his chair, and he was cursing himself for giving Eames the satisfaction that he had managed to persuade him. But talking about it now would only make it worse, so he kept quiet and followed Eames outside.
On the street in front of the house, there was a brand-new silver Porsche Carrera cabriolet.
"Is that what you're dreaming of?" Arthur commented with a dismissive tone of voice.
"It's one of many things, yes," Eames replied, pointing drily at the passenger seat. "Get in."
"We should be working on a way to get out of here," Arthur said and shook his head, but obeyed nevertheless.
Eames walked around the car and sat down behind the steering wheel. "Well, it's not like our time's running out," he said, turning the key.
The engine started running with a mighty noise. "Oh, yeah."
The car accelerated quickly and seconds later they were already in the middle of a multilane avenue. There were only a few other cars around except them and Eames seemed to enjoy breaking every single traffic regulation he knew of. Running a red light? Check. Passing another car on the right lane? Check. Breaking the speed limit? Double check.
"If you go on like that," Arthur said after a while, "the police will notice."
"We're inside a dream," Eames replied shaking his head. "I could outrun them. That would be fun."
"Indeed," Arthur agreed sarcastically. "And ending up in jail, sitting around in a four square feet cell for months would be even more fun."
Eames' eyes didn't flicker. "I could imagine worse."
And the way he said it, entirely serious, sent a shiver down Arthur's spine. He needed to get out of here! Now! "Well, it was lovely cruising around, so thank you very much. Now you can drive me back home."
"Oh, come on," Eames protested, "I haven't even started yet."
They heard the siren of a police car somewhere in the distance, when Eames suddenly jerked the wheel, steering the car down a flat embankment, right towards the beach.
"Could we at least stick to the road?" Arthur suggested, suddenly not feeling so well anymore, driving along an idyllic beach together with Eames as the sun was just about to rise.
"We're going to have some fun now," Eames simply announced and steered the car right towards the sea.
"Stop!" Arthur yelled quickly, but at that point, the car was already running on the water.
"Jesus would be so jealous," Eames said with a pleased smile on his face and accelerated even more. The ocean's water foamed up underneath the tires, water spraying up on the sides and behind them.
"What are you doing?!" Arthur felt more and more displeased. "What?!"
"Well, actually, I think we work too much," Eames explained quietly. "We should enjoy our dreams more. Hey, anything is possible in here, and all we ever do is play James Bond."
"At least that's what we get paid for," Arthur reminded him.
The beach faded behind them and the ocean started to get a bit more troubled. A wave built up right in their way, higher and higher, like a huge wall of water.
But instead of turning off, Eames headed right at it.
"Are you mad?!" Arthur continued. "Do you know what'll happen if we die in here? Do you even– stop!"
The gush had hit them so hard, Arthur panted for air. He tried to blow away the water that was dripping from his lips.
Eames hadn't taken it any better either – fortunately – but he was laughing anyway. "If that's what it takes to get you to shut up, then I'll have to tell Cobb about it."
"You're crazy!" Arthur gasped, dripping from head to toe. "You're just crazy!"
"I am," Eames admitted with a smug smile, "and you like it."
Without hesitation, he turned the steering wheel around, heading right at the next wave that was coming towards them. Seconds later, the water gushed over them again, even harder and colder than the first time.
"Stop it!" Arthur hissed, almost pleadingly. "That's enough!"
"Says who?" Eames simply replied and accelerated towards the third wave. "Come on, you're still not having fun!" Eames held his breath when he expected to hit the wave, but all of a sudden, an arch-shaped rock appeared right inside the wave, shielding the water away from them and the car passed the wave without getting hit by a single drop of water.
Arthur immediately burst out laughing triumphantly. "Ha, did you see that? Sorry, but you're not the only one dreaming here."
"Oh, am I hearing a challenge there?" Eames raised an eyebrow.
"We both know who'd be the winner." Arthur felt great all of a sudden. Destroying Eames' plans to tease him was indeed a lot of fun. Any wave that came towards them – Arthur shielded it off with the most bizarre rock formations he could think of. And he did it merrily.
"This is no fun!" Eames complained after they had passed the fourth wave in row without getting splashed. "But I'm not done yet!"
The car's wheels bottomed out again on asphalt, when suddenly a large road rose from the sea, leading them up and away from the water, closer to the sky.
"Oh, no!" Arthur objected with a defying look.
The car had reached the top of the road, and when the lane was just about to lead back down, the car arrived on the roof of a large parking garage. The sun kept shining down from the cloudless blue sky, and far beyond the roof they could see the skyscrapers and church steeples of a city around them. The ocean breeze was gone.
"It's a parking garage," Arthur pointed at a sign. "It means you should park the car."
"Not yet, darling," Eames announced. "You're not having fun yet and I won't stop until you do."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "I'll be having fun as soon as you stop this."
But Eames just drove across the entire parking level towards a concrete wall. When they came closer, Arthur could see that there was a spiral ramp there, leading down to the lower parking levels.
Eames drove along and followed the lane down in circles.
"You know there'll be another parking level down there," Arthur reminded him, "and that one won't have an exit."
"Well, we won't be needing one," Eames said with a sparkle in his eyes, pointing at an inscription at the wall, saying 2nd floor. The went around another loop, but at the same point the next inscription still said 2nd floor.
Arthur sighed, when he realized what Eames had created.
The other man, of course, started laughing happily, as they went around again and again, always ending up passing the 2nd floor sign. "A Penrose parking garage spiral ramp," he announced. "That's my birthday present for you." He glanced at Arthur to see his reaction. "Come on, admit it. You love it. I know your heart always skips a beat when someone gives you the chance to say paradox."
"Oh, I couldn't care less!" Arthur insisted, but of course he loved it. Well, being a fan of Penrose's paradoxes wasn't something to be ashamed of, now, was it? There was something else that annoyed him a little bit, and it wasn't the fact that Eames apparently just knew exactly how to impress Arthur – it was the fact that he had actually succeeded.
After a few more rounds inside the endless spiral, Arthur opened a passage through which he made the lane lead outside, eventually breaking the paradox.
"Aw, you destroyed it," Eames sighed, heartbroken, but he complied anyway and followed the new path that lay before them.
The car now reached a gloomy forest track. The trees, however – only blurredly visible –, seemed to be made entirely of metals: aluminum, copper and gold.
"Huh, that's weird," Arthur murmured. "Was that you? Because I was dreaming of another parking level."
"No, I think this is a dream fissure. If two people are trying to build different things at the same time–"
"Right…" Arthur interrupted. "Like a tug war. It tears the dream world."
"Exactly," Eames nodded. "That's why everything looks so blurred. I've never seen one for myself, actually. But I heard it creates a world out of whatever subconscious remains manifest."
"We should get out of here," Arthur whispered, even though there was no real need to whisper. It was just – the entire scenery seemed so unreal and ghostly, and he certainly wasn't keen on being confronted with any parts of his subconscious – especially not with Eames around. So he just leaned back on the passenger seat and tried to concentrate on thinking of… nothing. He imagined a giant black square, tried to visualize it, but then, suddenly a cold wind touched his face, his lips. He snapped his eyes open with sudden unease, and his eyes immediately caught a glimpse two faint silhouettes, two people, crouching in the shadows next to a tree. As soon as he noticed them, the car had already passed them and they were gone.
"What's wrong?" Eames asked quickly as Arthur's pausing didn't go unnoticed. "Did you see something?"
"No," Arthur lied calmly. "It was just the wind."
"The road ends over there," Eames pointed ahead. "And I think it would be best if only one of us created what lies ahead."
"Then go ahead. I'm fine with anything that get us out of the fissure."
"Fine," Eames replied and seconds later the car was back on the middle of the sea. The gloomy trees were gone and so was the chilly wind, but instead they could hear the calming sound of the waves, the cries of the sea gulls and the splashing of the water against the car.
"Is that better?" Eames grinned as the warm sunbeams of the faraway sunset touched their skin.
Arthur sighed relieved. "Much better. You're even allowed to crash a wave now, if you feel like it."
"You shouldn't give me an inch, darling," Eames warned with a smirk, "I'll surely take a mile."
When they reached the shore after a while, the car suddenly started stuttering and eventually stopped feebly.
"Huh, that's weird…" Eames seemed confused. "Maybe there's water in the engine."
Arthur grinned quietly. "You're just out of fuel."
Eames frowned. "What?!" But then he realized that it had been Arthur's doing and he sighed. "Alright, fine. I give up. You win. There's just no way to get you to have fun, not even in a dream where anything is possible. So I won't keep failing trying the impossible. You're allowed to get out of the car."
But in fact, Arthur seemed quite pleased all of a sudden. If Eames had known that all it would take to make Arthur happy was to let him win, they could have very well just played a game of Monopoly, instead of driving around a fantasy dream landscape in a Porsche cabriolet.
They had to wade through the water for a short bit until they reached the beach. A bit further up ahead, they could see small houses.
"So, what is this place?" Arthur looked around. The small village was at the bottom of a mountain. Some of the timber-framed houses were lit brightly. A path lead up to the mountain peak, and people were hiking up there as if they were all part of a nightly procession.
"This place?" Eames looked at him with a puzzled face. "How should I know? You're the one creating it."
"Me? No, I thought it was you," Arthur replied truthfully. "I'm done creating, since the fissure happened."
"That's weird," Eames said quietly. "Then maybe it's one of Ariadne's designs that got stuck with us down here."
"Possible." Arthur shrugged.
Eames looked up at the mountain and the people who were strolling up the path. "I wonder what she created on top of the mountain that makes people go up there."
"Well, we could just go and find out," Arthur suggested to Eames' surprise, but when he looked at his face, Arthur blinked adventurously and Eames could see a soft, warm smile on the other man's face – a smile that he had never seen quite like that before.
There was no way that Eames would decline now. "Well then," he said with surprising drive, "I hope you brought along your walking shoes."
They reached the village after a quarter. There was a warm, exciting and almost mystic feeling that got hold of them as soon as they set foot on the granite cobbles that paved the small alleys between the houses. The sun had set on the far horizon, but the lights of the windows and the candles some people were carrying illuminated the mild night. They heard the quiet murmur of the people who made their way to the mountain next to them. The uneven paths that lead through the village went over tiny bridges, past tranquil squares and terraces, with more and more people joining them as they got closer to the mountain.
Arthur soaked in the warm air. Honestly, he would have never dreamt of ending up in a place like this – his plans had been to work on his computer in his room tonight – but something about the magic of this place and the people around him made him incredibly curious about what would await them at the peak – yes, excited almost. He took a glance to the side where Eames was walking next to him, and the way he was eying their surroundings told him that he was just as fascinated as himself. The thought made Arthur smile. Somehow, weirdly, he was actually happy that the person by his side was someone… like Eames. Someone, who would tear him out of his room, make him crash into waves several meters high and invent a Penrose parking garage spiral ramp just to make him happy.
Unexpectedly – and right at that thought –, the sight of two men crouching in the dark of a lonely alleyway made Arthur startle up and he turned his eyes away.
Eventually, the path went up a narrow mountain trail. It's one of the benefits of dreaming that one very rarely gets physically exhausted, except if one's dreaming about it. So no matter how steep the trail became, they kept up with the people around them with ease.
Finally, after about half an hour, the path became even again and they knew they had made it.
Before them, the summit cross soared into the starlit sky and they finally found out what drew all the other people up here: At the highest place to the far left, there was a dance floor made entirely of glass, sticking out hundreds of miles high over the valley without anything but thin air underneath it. The people on it were dancing with their feet stomping on the glass, but all the platform did was vibrate slightly.
"Wow," Arthur said acknowledging, "Ariadne was playing with her fearless side."
Eames grabbed his arm. "Come on. We'll be, too."
"No way!" Arthur resisted. "Do you know how deep it is? The glass might break and then we'll end up fall to our deaths…"
"I didn't walk all the way up here for nothing," Eames replied and one challenging look was enough to make Arthur come along.
They went as close to the edge as possible without stepping onto the glass platform, and peeked down into the depth. The trees and the houses of the village seemed so small as if they were looking out of an airplane's window.
"Tell them to stop jumping and I'll step on it," Arthur announced, outscreaming the music, nodding at the dancing people.
"I can't," Eames yelled back. "We'll have to do it without them stopping."
"What?" Arthur hadn't heard Eames' reply over the bass of the music.
But Eames had already grabbed Arthur's arm even tighter and with a single, gentle pull they were both standing on the glass, freely hovering over the world.
Arthur exhaled. "Wow," he whispered. "This is amazing."
"Right?" Eames grinned at him. "Come on, let's go over there."
They made their way through the dancing people, stepping on the glass, looking down to the faraway ground from time to time.
Eames was still holding Arthur's arm, but neither of them noticed, and if they did, they didn't let it show.
"They serve drinks over there," Eames said close to Arthur's ear. "Do you want to get something?"
"Uhm…" Arthur looked over the platform back at the mountain peak. At an alley in the distance, he suddenly spotted them again: It was Eames and himself, crouching on the ground. Eames placing his hand softly on Arthur's neck, leaning close to him and then… They were just projections of themselves, bits of Arthur's subconscious making their ways into his mind. He had fought so hard to suppress the memory of it, and still he had kept on thinking about it all the time.
The people around him started dancing more fervently. The platform suddenly seemed more crowded than before.
What was he to make of that kiss? How could it even have happened? They were just colleagues, rivals at times, shaking their heads over each other's methods and attitudes. Then why? Why couldn't he stop thinking about it? Why did it take his breath away when he thought back to it?
And why – in God's name – couldn't he freaking stop feeling it?!
Eames was just about to go ahead to get the drinks, when suddenly Arthur touched his shoulder.
"Liar," Arthur said, turning him around, "of course it was that good." And he caught Eames' lips with his own.
The alarming surprise eased immediately and Eames closed his eyes, feeling Arthur wrapping his arms around him, the way he had wished it to happen so damn many times.
The people around them didn't seem to notice, but kept on dancing in their trance-like hustle.
He slid his hand along Arthur's shoulder and down his arm, until their hands met and fingers entwined. It was a heartfelt, powerful gesture, and Arthur returning it – wrapping his fingers around his – meant the world.
The kiss died down sometime soon after that, and for a while they were standing close with their foreheads leaning against each other.
The music had faded somewhere along the way.
Eames could feel Arthur's uneasy breath against his cheek, but that was nothing compared to the turbulence he himself was feeling right now at this moment.
"Are you happy now, Eames?" Arthur whispered with a trembling voice.
"Leonard," Eames corrected him, and for a second he was shocked by the sound of this name in his ears. It had been like forever since he'd last heard it and it sounded strange and unfamiliar, but when Arthur repeated it slowly, the sound of it made his heart skip a beat.
Then he let himself fall back against the cushions, pulling Arthur down with him. "Please," he whispered against the kisses, "don't make me wake up now." The suddenness of all this sent shivers down his spine. He had wished for this so badly, but he had never even dared to think that it would actually be happening for real someday.
He could feel Arthur's knee against his hip. He was heavier than expected and far more fierce.
Something seemed to be bursting free after all this time, all the teasing and the jokes, all the banter and the subtle glances – right now, all this seemed forgotten, pointless even. But it had lead them to this place – this moment.
Eames kissed him back with all his heart, his hand finding its way again back to Arthur's neck. There was a desperate passion in the way Arthur moved over him and Eames wondered if what he was feeling was actually Arthur trembling.
He wondered if Arthur had ever been with anyone before. He realized he'd like it if he hadn't.
His hand slid up to the back of Arthur's head, fingers running through his hair. The waves had messed it up. It didn't matter anymore.
Then Arthur's hand caught his own, pushing it back down on the cushions. He shifted his weight on it, so that Eames couldn't move anymore, and seconds later, Eames could feel Arthur's other hand at his cheek. He felt so warm and perfect, better than he had ever imagined him to feel, better than he had wished him to be. Passionate and loving, desperate and hesitant at the same time. He wondered how much this was due to the fact that they were dreaming and his subconscious made him perceive everything in ways only his closest heart ever knew he longed for.
"Leonard…" he felt Arthur whispering against his lips.
"Don't worry, we'll be fine…" he hissed back in a low voice.
Arthur ran his hand up Eames' head, grabbing his hair. "Too much excitement could work like a kick. We could fall into limbo…"
"I'm not excited," Eames whispered as he kissed him in all seriousness, then his lips cracked a grin.
Arthur chuckled back at him. "Shut up."
Eames pulled him closer. "You're worth any risk."
He was so in love with this person, never more than right now, but ever since one day years ago. And having those feelings returned – whatever it meant – was the most breathtaking feeling he had ever known.
When Arthur pulled back to take off his jacket, Eames followed him up, not intending to allow their kiss to be torn apart. He would never let go of Arthur again. Never.
When Eames thought back to the day he'd met Arthur for the first time in his life, he thought back to a busy but ordinary day in the city of Budapest. He had just gotten there by plane to visit an old friend of his, Freddy Simmonds, at the hospital. He had known Freddy for decades, because he, too, was a forger and familiar with the art of shared dreaming. They had been on many missions together and Eames appreciated his expertise and professionalism. That's why the news of him being gravely injured came to him as a shock. Supposedly, it had happened during a job, but Eames intended to find out for himself.
When he opened the door that read Simmonds next to the doorframe, he unexpectedly found another man standing there in the room next to Freddy's bed. The stranger was a blonde man in his forties, maybe, looking down at the unconscious patient.
"Oh, sorry, I'll just come back later," Eames murmured surprised and was about to close the door again, when the man asked him to come inside.
Eames had never been trusting towards strangers – he had never been allowed to be – and that was exactly the reason why he accepted the man's offer. Who was that guy and what was he doing in this room, with Freddy being unconscious?
At first, they settled for petty chit-chat and talked about Freddy's condition for almost ten minutes, until the man finally introduced himself as Dominick Cobb, a friend of Freddy's.
But Eames knew better. He had heard that name before, and from Freddy himself, no less. Dominick Cobb was an extractor, and – as far as Eames knew – he was also Freddy's boss.
That fact caught Eames' interest, and so he decided to give away his true profession in return. Cobb – just as Eames – seemed hardly surprised.
"Deceiving people in the real world is a bit harder than inside a dream," Cobb explained with a smirk. "Even for a forger."
"So that job of yours got him hospitalized…" Eames continued and nodded at the unconscious patient.
"An ordinary job," Cobb shrugged, "like thousands of other jobs we had done before. I don't know how this could get so out of hands. But the next time we'll be more careful. Well…" he blinked, "considering our forger just got himself a room at the IC, I guess the next time won't be anytime soon."
Eames raised an eyebrow. "That sounds like a job opening to me." He threw a glance at Cobb. By no means did he intend to take an injured man's job – and especially not a friend's – but finishing a job that even Freddy Simmonds had failed to complete seemed like the challenge Eames was looking for. Besides, he would be more of a substitute for Freddy than an actual replacement.
Cobb seemed to think about it for a while, then he pulled out a small card from his jacket and handed it to Eames, before he left without saying another word.
In the afternoon, Eames arrived at the address Cobb had given him. It was a hotel suite in the center of the city. Cobb met him at the entrance. They went up to the room where Cobb and his team had stored their equipment, and when Eames entered the messy place, he could see two other men at the window. The rest of the team. One of them was sitting at a computer and looked up only shortly to greet him with a nod, while the other man was standing next to the bed, working on a complicated looking device.
"Eames," Cobb led him to his new colleagues, "Arthur and Nash."
"Nice to meet you," Eames shook their hands and then turned back to Cobb, who started briefing him on the job they had to do.
Apparently they were planning on performing a simple extraction, but had already failed twice, because the mark's subconscious instinctively resisted against any attempts, possibly because she had experienced extraction before, always causing some kind of partial immunity. After their second failure, Freddy Simmonds had ended up in hospital.
During Cobb's report of their attempts, one of the other two men corrected him here and there, or explained some details more thoroughly, which Cobb had only mentioned. The third man's role apparently consisted of snorting and shaking his head from time to time.
"It's your choice," Cobb concluded. "Our offer stands, but I fully understand if you have any reservations, especially considering Freddy's state."
It seemed dangerous, Eames thought without letting it show, because the more often you try and the more often you fail, the harder it'll get to ever succeed. But then again, it seemed the right challenge to accept the job, even if the outcome was uncertain. "Consider me in," Eames announced, shaking everyone's hands once again.
The next day, Eames rejoined his new colleagues in the morning. Cobb handed him a few files and documents on the mark, and then asked one of the other men to explain the planned chronology of the dream to Eames.
When Eames followed him into a side room, he pondered if Cobb had introduced this man as Arthur or Nash, just in case he would have to address him.
He decided to go with Arthur, just because it sounded more intellectual and intuitively seemed to fit a person better who was obviously the point man in this whole operation.
Arthur – hopefully – lead him to a wooden model of a park surrounded by various skyscrapers and other business buildings.
"This will be the dream level," he explained and strolled around the model, as if to emphasize its size. "There's a park over here, business buildings to the south, and over here, we got the station. The station will be our destination. There are lockers in there which will be the objects to extract from. We enter the dream around here, next to the buildings."
"Can I ask a question, Arthur?" Eames interrupted and looked up at the man opposite him, but when he saw the weird look in the other's eyes, he hesitated. Damn, was it Nash, after all? Dear Lord, it was Nash! "Or Nash, sorry, I've never been good with names," he added, hastily continuing with the question, "why do you intent to extract the information from the lockers at the station? There are business facilities over there, wouldn't it be easier to just break a safe open?"
"Uhm, no," Nash replied, but hesitated a moment. "The information we need to extract is of more… personal nature. The station is the perfect place. You'll read more about this in the files."
"I see," Eames replied, turning his attention back to the model.
"And," Nash kept looking at him, "it's Arthur, not Nash."
When Eames looked up at him, Arthur tilted his head. "If I were Nash, I would do my colleagues the favor and finally hand in my resignation."
"I heard that, asshole," a voice hissed from the other room.
Eames had his eyes wide open. "Ah, positive work climate. That's very important."
"Just ignore him," Arthur said, excusing, shaking his head and rolling his eyes at the same time.
Eames raised an eyebrow. "The two of you don't get along?"
Before Arthur could reply, Nash answered from outside, "Yeah, well, no one gets along with him."
"Thank you, Nash!" Arthur yelled back, kicking the door shut. "We're already viewing applications." He turned back to the model. "Where were we… Ah, right. The entrance. Once we're inside, we'll take that route along the fence and then the left passage over there."
"I don't think so," Eames suddenly said, causing Arthur to startle and blink.
Eames kept his eyes fixed on the model. He repeated with a low voice, "I don't think that no one gets along with you."
Arthur was honestly taken aback by this unexpected statement and he couldn't think of anything to reply. So instead he said, "He'll calm down, sooner or later. It's always the same with him." For a short moment, none of them said a word. Then Arthur cleared his throat. "So, as I said…" he pointed at the entrance of an office building with a pen from his pocket. "This is where we get in," he explained and drew an imaginary line over a few houses, "the buildings will be connected by underground passages, so we can reach the station like this."
Eames listened to him carefully. It seemed like the other man had put a lot of thought into this strategy and in general, everything sounded solid and clear. There was just one thing… "Just a tiny little comment," Eames finally said. "Maybe we should split into two teams. One team takes the route you just showed me to get to the station, and the other team," he gently took the pen from Arthur's hand and their fingers touched accidentally, "takes the route across the park and over here, along the railways. That way, if security shows up in the park or inside the buildings – which is very likely if extraction has been attempted before –, the according team can distract them, while the other team keeps going."
"Yeah, that would be possible," Arthur admitted, "but we never split up during missions. Lesson learned from the past."
"Uhm, okay," Eames gave in, even though he couldn't understand why Arthur would dismiss his idea other than out of simple stubbornness. Still, it was his first job with this team and so he would comply.
Arthur passed over the topic pretty quickly and started to explain the details of the actual extraction. "This is where you come into play," he said with a nod at Eames, "you'll need to take on the personality of her brother and distract her and the security for as long as you can, while Cobb and I…"
"Sorry," Eames interrupted him quickly. "Look, I'm sorry if I have to bring it up again, but as I said, if we split into two groups, then there won't be any need to–"
"I really appreciate your concern," Arthur cut him off, "and that you're so eager to improve the plan. That's…" he seemed to consider his choice of words, and then apparently decided to go with, "rare. But it's a good thing, really. We just don't do things that way, okay? Splitting up is not an option."
"But it would help us a great deal," Eames insisted, this time determined not to let it go. "I've been on a job like this before, and people who have already been extracted once tend to focus their security on selected spots, so–"
"It's going to work the way we planned it. Believe me." Arthur seemed annoyed. "It's great that you want to play a part in this, but we're the ones paying you, so we're doing things our way."
"Yes, of course," Eames agreed placably. "I'm just trying to help. Aren't you also paying me to benefit from my expertise?" He looked up at Arthur and the other man seemed to seriously think about this statement for a moment.
But then he just turned back to the model. "No, we're doing it our way." And the way he said it made it clear that his decision was final.
While Arthur explained the rest of the plan to him, Eames wondered if Nash actually might have been right about Arthur after all.
The actual mission was to be carried out exactly one week later. The date was set and Cobb gathered the entire team a few hours earlier for a final mission briefing.
"Are there any questions left?" he asked and looked at each of them one by one.
Eames cleared his throat. "Yeah, well, actually, I do have a suggestion." He didn't look at Arthur, but he could see that the other man raised an eyebrow. Eames knew that he was not playing fair by bringing this up to Cobb directly, but then again, it was about the safety and the success of the mission, and he certainly didn't want to end up like Freddy Simmonds.
So he explained his idea of splitting up, making sure not to accidentally mention anything about the fact that he had already tried to convince Arthur (but bit on granite doing so), in order to avoid putting Arthur in a bad light.
Because he immediately seemed to love the idea, Cobb was quite excited about changing their strategy. "This is brilliant…" he kept murmuring, looking at the model. "That way it could actually work…"
"I think so, too," Eames agreed. "Actually I wonder why you didn't do it that way, before. I mean, at least Freddy should have brought this option up."
"Oh, he did," Cobb explained to his surprise. "But…" Then, however, he bit his lips, and was so busy not looking at Arthur, that everything was obvious.
Eames took a glance at Arthur. The latter was just standing there, looking really annoyed and even pissed off, but Eames couldn't help it. Sorry, Arthur, but security first. Stubbornness second.
Not even five hours later, the job was all done and carried out successfully, without even the slightest complications. As it had turned out, the strategy suggested by Eames had been exactly what had made the two previous attempts failures. Security had already unexpectedly gathered inside the business buildings, so that Cobb and Arthur got overrun by enemies once again. But that way, Nash and Eames, who made their way to the station along the rails, managed to reach the lockers without even firing a single shot.
Eames wouldn't say that he was content with himself as he packed his stuff – but, hell, he was!
He was surprised to see Arthur standing in the doorframe.
"Splitting up – saved us the third failure in a row." Arthur pursed his lips and came towards him, hands in his pockets. "I guess I owe you some thanks."
Eames turned to him, laughing quietly. "I wouldn't have thought you to be the kind of person who could actually admit that they've been wrong."
"Oh, I can," Arthur assured, stopping a few steps away. "But that doesn't necessarily mean that I like it."
Eames couldn't hold back a grin. "And I had already started wondering."
"Yeah, wondering if Nash was right about you after all." Eames blinked. "But now I'm sure."
Arthur's eyes flashed. "Now you're sure he's wrong."
"Hm…" Eames rubbed his chin, then he shrugged, "if that's what you want to believe…"
Arthur snorted and pulled out a piece of paper. "The check."
"Oh, thanks. And worth every penny, I hope."
"If that's what you want to believe," Arthur countered, earning a grin from the other man. "You better keep an eye on that money. I hear you're a gambler, Mr. Eames."
"That's not quite true," Eames assured him. "I only gamble on some special occasions."
"And when would that be?"
Eames just smirked as he left for the door, taking the check, but not without having their fingers touch a second time.
Later that night, Eames looked down at the lights of the city from the window of the plane.
A flight attendant offered him a snack. He gladly accepted and then closed his eyes to take a nap, but something kept him awake. There was a certain scene replaying inside his head again and again.
"I guess I owe you some thanks."
"I wouldn't have thought you to be the kind of person who could actually admit that they've been wrong."
"Oh, I can. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I like it."
Arthur, he thought with a snort. He had really been wrong about him, after all. Because no matter how stubborn and self-absorbed he might come across, he surely had a sense of fairness and was, after all, able to swallow his own pride.
That one moment had impressed Eames, there was no way denying it. It had impressed him more than he liked to admit.
Without even noticing, his hand accidentally brushed over an object in the inside pocket of his jacket. It was a pen that didn't belong to him.
"Oh, I can. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I like it."
"It's just too bad…" Eames murmured to himself, as he drifted into sleep. "Just too bad…"
Eames woke by the sound of the rain dripping against the windows. He opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed was, that even though it was raining, the sun was also shining brightly through the raindrops that covered the pane.
The second thing he noticed was that he was all alone.
Quietly he got up and dressed, then he went to the door and stepped outside. There was no rain, but a cloudy sky and a fresh breeze when he closed the door. A few steps away, he saw Arthur sitting on the glass platform, where people had been dancing last night. Where everything had started.
Back then, it had been a weird feeling even stepping onto it, let alone get close to the edge. Now, Arthur was sitting exactly there, with his legs dangling right over the void.
Eames stepped a bit closer and sat down on the brim right next to Arthur. He was surprised that he didn't even feel scared in the slightest.
Arthur didn't look at him, but instead stared into the distance, with this pensive, musing look on his face.
For a moment, Eames was once again taken aback by the perfectness of his features, his dark eyebrows, his deep eyes. Then he feared that he could have destroyed something, something that had been there between them, but now, was irrevocably gone. The thought of it made him turn away. "Arthur…" he said and touched his shoulder with his hand.
At first, Arthur didn't react at all. It was, as if he didn't even want to notice that Eames was still around. But then, after what seemed like forever, he lifted his right hand and covered Eames' with his own.
A smile of relief curved Eames' mouth and he rested his head against their hands on his shoulder. They waited until the sun broke through the clouds.
When Eames looked back at this moment, he could say for sure that this had been one of the happiest moments in his life. All those years, from that very moment on the plane after their first job together, he had been in love with this person, drawn almost magically to him by the perfectness of his being: his handsome face and his slender figure, the clear eyes – narrowed when focused on his work and with a certain kind of warmth when he was tired and exhausted from a busy job –, his knowledge and his abilities, and also his self-confidence and his very special way of showing fairness towards others, even if he himself didn't like it. On that moment on the plane, Eames had realized all of this and grown attached to the other man before he had even noticed.
Still, all this time, there had been little doubt that Arthur would never return any of those feelings. Eames had never seen him with a girl, no, but never with a man either. No matter how hard he tried to figure him out, Arthur remained a mystery.
During the years that followed, Eames had always been looking forward to working with Cobb and his team, just to be reunited with Arthur, even if it meant that he had to cancel another job that would have been more lucrative or exciting. Arthur never found out about that, of course. On the outside, both of them had rushed into some kind of playful rivalry, acting as if they didn't like each other, even though both of them knew that wasn't entirely true. Only Eames, however, knew that there was actually even more than friendship to it.
On occasion, he would let tiny bits of accidental flirting slip in, just because it made him happy to pretend for a moment – not because he thought that they would serve any higher purpose. It gave him joy whenever Arthur returned them instead of reject them, and he would be lying if he said that those little moments didn't give him some illusionary hope, deep inside his subconscious.
So whenever he looked at Arthur now, he could feel his own heart showering this special person with affection, his eyes brightly lighting up whenever Arthur looked back at him with a smile. There was no doubt that this was what it meant to be in love.
"What is it?" Arthur said with a curious look. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"It's nothing," Eames replied with a smile. "I was just musing about the past."
"The past, huh?" Arthur crossed the street. "So, speaking of that, this is the place you wanted to show me?"
"Yeah, it's not so appealing on the outside, I know, but they do serve the best pizza and pasta in all of Britain. Used to, actually. The restaurant was closed down when I was eleven. Before that, we went there each year on my birthday."
"Well, then let's find out if the pizza is as good on my birthday as it was on yours," Arthur said and opened the door.
The inside of the restaurant was indeed as pretty as Eames had described. The dining area had been created to look like a building at the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, with fishnets, steering wheels and other maritime accessories fixed to the ceiling and the walls. The delicious smell of freshly baked pizza and Italian spices greeted the restaurant's guests right at the entrance.
"Excuse me," Arthur waved for the waiter. "A table for two, please. And by any chance, maybe we could get a table outside, on the balcony?"
Eames snorted. "There's no balcony here, darling."
Arthur winked at him. "There is, if I dream it to be."
At that, the waiter bowed slightly. "The balcony, please follow me."
"Ah, a smart move," Eames admitted, "just as I'd expect from my favorite co-worker."
"Well," Arthur replied with a wink, "someone once told me that I shouldn't be afraid to dream bigger – so, here's me, dreaming bigger."
"Aw, sounds promising," Eames smirked back at him when they sat down at the table.
The balcony was actually a pretty place outside the restaurant. There were plenty of free tables, but the waiter led them to a table close to the rail. Several fancy lamps were attached to the metal, but since it was still light outside, they hadn't been switched on yet.
They had an amazing view over the ocean from here, with the sunlight making the wavy water glitter. Far away in the distance, they could see the cliffs of a coast with a mountain towering high over it.
"Thank you," Eames said as the waiter left them alone. "Well, isn't it romantic?"
At that, Arthur simply smirked. Truth be told, he was feeling comfortable right now, but deeper down, there was also something that made him hold back a little. He wasn't sure what to make of all this. He loved the way that Eames made him feel, there was no doubt about it, but then again, that wasn't all he was feeling right now. He had the impression that he was in the middle of a fight against his own subconscious, telling him that he had feelings for Eames, when his reason kept thinking of Eames as just a colleague and last night had been nothing more than giving in to a spontaneous one-time urge.
They've known each other for years now, but not even once had Arthur thought of him more than an acquaintance, a friend maybe at the most. He'd always had the impression that they were getting along well, friendly teasing each other but never really meaning any harm. Now, the thought that the accidental flirting might have meant more to Eames than it had meant to him almost overwhelmed him. Was he the one that had been blind all along? But then again, that wasn't really the scary thing about it. The thing that scared him most was, that it might have meant more to himself – even way back then – than he'd ever dared to realize.
He took a glance at Eames over the brim of his menu, looking at the other man who seemed entirely focused on studying the various dishes listed there. He lowered his eyes again, staring at the letters, but not actually reading any of the words.
Just to think that Eames might have harbored feelings for him for years flattered him, made him feel special, but then again, what could he say about his own feelings? If all of this had been nothing more than a one-time incident, then he should tell Eames – and he should do it now, he knew that. He should stop giving Eames false hope and stop having romantic dinner with him. Either end it – and end it now – or take a chance and go for it. That was the moment for him to decide.
They just sat there for a while with neither of them starting a conversation. Arthur let his eyes wander over to the ocean, and on the far horizon he could make out the coast and he noticed that it was actually the village and the mountain peak with the glass platform, where all of this had started.
He remembered them being up there this morning, feeling the warmth of Eames' hand on his shoulder. And not just the warmth of his hand, it was the warmth of his presence, the warmth of whatever he was feeling for him. Then Arthur took a deep breath and he realized that the decision he was struggling with had already been made.
The reason why this had happened wasn't because he had been desperate, not because he had been charmed into doing something he hadn't intended to do. It was the reason why he would always call Eames first whenever they needed a forger, the reason why he always seemed to end up on the chair closest to Eames', the reason why wouldn't hesitate go get down by Eames' side, take his arm and help him with the PASIV. It was the reason why he had kept on returning the flirting and also the reason why he would be shattered if he turned Eames down right now.
The waiter returned a few minutes later to take their orders and, after Eames had chosen, there was a smile of Arthur's face. "I'll have the same, thanks."
About half an hour later, their dinner was served.
Arthur tasted the pizza he had ordered. "Wow, it's actually even better than I expected."
"Glad to hear that," Eames replied and seemed all content with himself. "But you sound surprised."
"Well, it's just, usually, if you're expecting something to be really great, then – most of the times – it's just not."
"Well," Eames raised an eyebrow at him, "that may be true. But on some occasions, if you expect something to be really great," he made a pause and looked back at Arthur intensely, "it might turn out even better."
"Oh, come on," Arthur whispered at that, not admitting how much he loved hearing those words from Eames.
After they had eaten, Arthur found Eames sitting on the railing. There was a slight breeze now as the sun was setting on the far horizon. On the mountain peak far away he could already recognize the colorful lights of the glass dancing floor. The breeze played with Eames' jacket as the other man looked over to him.
Arthur came strolling towards him, and there was an expression on his face that Eames hadn't seen there before.
"What is it?" Eames asked him quietly.
Arthur leaned on the railing next to Eames, looking over the sea. For the first time in this dream, he felt entirely calm. Safe, relieved and without any doubts. He stayed like this for a while, then he turned to look at Eames. He whispered, "I want to, but I can't stop thinking of last night."
There was a smile in Eames' eyes. "You know," he said, touching Arthur's cheek with his right hand. The warm orange light of the setting sun was reflected in Arthur's eyes and golden on his cheeks. Eames brushed one strand of his hair back behind his ear. It was just a little bit messier when not gelled back. "I think you're lovely." He lead him gently to stand up and when Arthur did, the younger man came closer to stand right in front of Eames, putting one arm on his shoulder, the other one around his waist.
Arthur didn't say a word, just leaned down a little bit to kiss him. And there he was again, on the top of the mountain, taken aback, but this time, the doubts were gone. You cannot gain anything without risking something. Eames was a gambler – maybe it wouldn't hurt if he became one, too.
Eames wrapped his arms around him and pulled him closer. He had promised himself to never let Arthur go ever again, and he was determined to keep that promise. "Do you want some desert?" Eames whispered against Arthur's lips.
"Well, not necessarily," Arthur replied.
Eames grinned. "Good."
"I've seen a door over there," Arthur whispered after a while.
Eames smirked. "Perfect."
The days seemed to pass by without anyone even noticing. Night and day were entirely in their hands after all. The sun started to set when they wanted it to, and rose again when they imagined.
Arthur tapped his foot into the water that the tide surged over the beach. It was a warm, gentle feeling and he kept doing it for hours. He had his eyes up at the pale blue sky, the back of his head resting quietly on Eames' legs.
The other man stroke his hair with his thumb and they sat there for hours and hours, talking about anything that came to their minds, laughing about crazy stories and funny ideas they had, about memories from the past that they'd shared together, while in their moments of silence they just listened to the sound of the waves and enjoyed the warmth of each other's presence.
"Arthur," Eames said sometime, "I want to ask you something."
"What is it?" Arthur replied, without taking his eyes off the sky.
"On our first day down here, we were at this house and people were celebrating your birthday."
"I had the impression that most of them were old people."
A melancholic smile darkened Arthur's face for a second. "I know. It's true. You see, they weren't just random projections. They were people I knew. People who would usually come to celebrate my birthday with me."
"Well, when I was a little kid, my parents died in a robbery."
"I didn't know," Eames replied with a quiet voice.
"I grew up with my grandparents," he continued. "They are wonderful people." And the smile on his face and the fondness in his voice made Eames smile as well. "I never really came to miss my parents, because they were my family. I grew up with them in their house in Manhattan. They're quite wealthy, so, yeah… expensive schools, college. They also had lots of friends, and I grew up around them. But of course, those friends were mostly people of their age. I didn't care, because I knew all of them for like forever. You don't realize how old people really are when they're constantly around."
"I see," Eames replied and thought about it for a while. Then he said with a teasing look, "well, at least that explains forthe way you dress."
"Hey," Arthur warned him, then he cupped his hand and filled it with water, just to splash it right into Eames' laughing face. But then his hand just stayed there at Eames' cheek, suddenly gently, and he looked up at those eyes, those earnest, caring eyes, and Arthur's face became serious, too. Nobody knew about his past, not even Cobb. But with Eames, it wasn't even hard to talk about it. He felt like he wanted him to know all there was to know about him.
The water ran down Arthur's arm and dripped from Eames' cheek, but what he felt right now, just gazing into Eames' eyes, was the heaviest he'd ever felt. Slowly he lowered his hand again, pulling Eames down with it, and when they kissed, just one single, tender kiss, Arthur felt that he already knew more than he could ever tell him.
Eames woke with a start. The first thing he realized was his heartbeat that was resounding like a hollow drum in his ears. He didn't know where he was and what had happened. He was completely disoriented. Without thinking about it – he had made sure through years of training – his hand slid into his pocket and pulled out the familiar piece of plastic, a round, red chip – his totem. Right at the first moment, it felt real and that made him calm down a bit, even though he was still trembling. Then he felt for the small dent on the side. He started counting the sprockets until he hit the next dent. One, two, three, four, five and six. He was back in reality!
On the far side of the room, he could see that Ariadne and Cobb had already rushed to Arthur's aid. They had grabbed both his arms to support him, while Cobb opened one of his eyelids and pointed a small flashlight at his pupil.
Right at that moment someone touched Eames' face as well and immediately he was blinded by some glaring light. Then he saw Yusuf switching off the flashlight and looking at Cobb. "He seems fine."
"Oh my God," Eames gasped, fighting against the headache and letting himself fall back onto the seat.
He heard Arthur complaining, "Well, that were the steamroller tactics, Cobb."
"You're worse than any alarm clock I ever had," Eames added with a nod.
"I'm sorry we couldn't manage to get you out any sooner," Cobb replied, ignoring their complaints. "The mission shouldn't have gotten out of our hands like this."
"Nah, it wasn't your fault," Eames reassured him. "Besides," he glanced at Arthur from the side, "we weren't exactly stuck in a nightmare." He noticed the smile that curved Arthur's lips, although the other man didn't look back at him.
"Besides," Arthur said instead and nodded. "I'm sure you did everything you could to get us out as fast as possible. And it's just as Leonard said, it wasn't a nightmare." As soon as he had said it, Arthur bit his tongue. Leonard?! Damn, there we go again, talking faster than we can think. But if anyone was startled by his use of Eames' first name, they all did a great job not to let it show. If? Well, of course everyone must have pricked their ears at that. To him, it was nothing special anymore. He had called the name endless times during the last months (indeed) – even though he still felt a little special and proud each time, to be the only one allowed to do so – but to them it had to sound like some random gibberish. Leonard? Who the hell is Leonard?! And then the conclusion would hit them: Oh, that must be Eames' first name. Why is Arthur calling him by his first name all of a sudden? Well, to his defense, all of a sudden was the months they had spent together in the dream world, so would it really be that telling, if they had switched to first name basis?
Well, considering it was Eames they were talking about, it probably was. So Arthur rolled his eyes. Whatever! "Yeah, so, in case you're wondering, we're together now."
Eames almost choked on the glass of water Yusuf had handed him, while everyone just stared at Arthur with their eyes wide open.
"What do you mean, together?" Yusuf muttered after a while. Arthur could see that he was as pale as his tan allowed him to be.
"Wait, I thought you two couldn't stand each other?!" Cobb cut him off. And the look on his face proved that he had been genuinely oblivious. "You were always at each other's throats!"
"Uhm, well…" Arthur and Eames both exchanged a few looks, hemming and hawing.
Then Yusuf raised a finger. "This is not – by any chance – some sort of this weird unresolved sexual attraction thing?" Then he added a bit sheepishly, "I always thought that was kind of hot."
"It is," Arthur and Eames blurted at the same time, to which everyone else just rolled their eyes.
"Well," Arthur said, a bit uncomfortable, "now that we got that straight," he flinched at his unlucky choice of words, but it didn't seem to matter anymore anyway, "why don't we all get out of this place, so that Leonard and I can get re-accustomed to real life? It has been months for us, after all."
"Wow," Yusuf replied, who was apparently the first one to have recovered from the shock, "several months in a dream? Where you can do anything you like and create anything you can imagine? Must be hard for you to get along in reality again."
"Well," Eames admitted, standing up, "from now on, we'll just have to stick to the things that are physically possible."
Yusuf immediately covered his ears. "Dear God, waaaay too much information!"
Arthur actually – disturbingly – laughed at it and everyone else was just feeling embarrassed.
Cobb, Yusuf and Adriane packed their stuff together and helped Eames and Arthur – who were both still struggling to be able to stand on their own feet, because the sedative and the sudden not-so-gentle waking had caused a dizziness that would remain for several hours – to the car. They were headed for a hotel, where all of them could spend the night, before the mission review and pay day the next morning. Of course, Cobb had booked two separate rooms for each Arthur and Eames, because he couldn't have anticipated that unexpected turn of events, and honestly, even now he was still adapting. Eames and Arthur, however, were both too tired and exhausted to object.
Before everyone returned to their rooms, they all had dinner together at Cobb's suite.
During the entire evening no one even mentioned the surprising relationship between Arthur and Eames again, even though Arthur was sure they had to be bursting with curiosity. Especially Yusuf. Ariadne on the other hand seemed a bit disappointed and maybe even sad. Arthur couldn't help avoiding her gaze. It was about the kiss they had shared during the Fischer job, he knew. Now, he felt even bad for it. Maybe it had given her false hope. To his defense, however, at that moment, he had genuinely been hopeful that something could happen between her and himself. That's why he had tricked her into kissing him. He'd always liked her and she could have been the one.
If there hadn't been someone else all along.
Fortunately, Cobb did most of the talking, reminding everyone how a mission shouldn't get out of hands like that, but seriously, Arthur thought to himself, most of their jobs did anyway. He found it hard to listen as he was so terribly tired from the sleeping drug. Eames didn't respond to any of his glances. He just sat there at the table, struggling to keep his eyes open.
About one hour later, Arthur was finally lying in his bed. Even though he was so unbelievably tired, there was another thing that kept him awake. Tomorrow. Everyone would have their paychecks in their pockets. It would be time to say goodbye until the next job. Whenever that would be. He had never worried about that ever before, but this time – for obvious reasons –, it was different.
All of a sudden, he could hear a noise at his door, a clicking sound followed by the door swinging open slowly. He immediately knew that it was Eames, even though he had no idea how the forger had managed to unlock the door.
Without saying a word, Eames slid into the bed next to him and the familiar sound of his movements, of the way he breathed, made Arthur feel a little lighter.
Eames looked at him and kissed his shoulder. "Are you alright, sweetheart?"
Arthur laid his left arm around Eames and pulled him closer. "Yeah, sure. Just terribly sleepy. How are you?"
"Same," Eames replied. "And having spent two entire months while time apparently stood still in real life is a bit weird, too. I miss our dream. Reality is so much more difficult."
"Yeah, I know," Arthur replied. "I wouldn't have objected if the dream had lasted a bit longer." He looked up at the ceiling. "At least we were together in there."
"We are together, love," Eames reminded him and kissed his hair as if to prove it, but that wasn't what Arthur had been talking about.
"Tonight, yes," he continued, "but what about tomorrow? I suppose you want to go back to Mombasa."
"Have to," Eames replied in a lower voice. "Unfinished business."
"See?" Arthur sighed. "And Cobb is already planning the next mission. With me."
"He doesn't need you," Eames said quietly, "Come with me."
"But maybe I need him," Arthur whispered back. "It's my job, I've done it for years. I know him and he's a friend. I want to do this, as much as you want to go back to Africa."
"Well, that's fine, too," Eames kissed him again, "it's not a problem. We'll still see each other." He paused and leaned on his elbow to look down at Arthur. "Unless you're planning to go the easy way with – say – Ariadne, now that you know I won't be around."
Arthur snorted. "Come on, stop it. I feel bad enough about this anyway. Did you see the way she looked at me tonight?"
"Ah, come on," Eames shook his head. "You make it sound as if the two of you were just one day away from marriage. It was just a single kiss – to distract projections, above all. Besides, in my opinion, Cobb needs her more than you do."
"Cobb?" Arthur seemed surprised.
"Of course," Eames shrugged. "No one gets him like she does, right?"
A confused smile suddenly crossed Arthur's face. "Well, if you say so."
"If I say so," Eames agreed with a smug smile, "you shouldn't argue, darling." He leaned down to kiss Arthur, who smiled against his lips.
"First kiss in real life," he noted with a muffled voice.
"Hmmh, right," Eames pulled him closer. "Let's make the best of it."
The next day, everyone went to the airport to catch their respective flights.
"Delayed," Arthur sighed as he looked up at the destination board. "Looks like we're stuck here for two more hours."
"My plane seems to leave on schedule," Ariadne said with a bit of pity in her voice.
"Huh, Ariadne, I thought you were part of the next job?" Yusuf looked confused. "But you're going back to Paris?"
"I have to," Ariadne explained. "There's a paper for university I have to give in. It's due on Sunday and I haven't even started yet." She glanced at Cobb. "But I'm sure I can finish it in time and then I'll join you next week."
Cobb nodded at this. She had obviously already talked this through with him.
"Oh, I don't get it, Ariadne," Yusuf replied. "With all the money you got from the Fischer job, now the Bosque job… Why don't you just quit university?"
"That's – no doubt – what you would do, Yusuf," Eames commented with an amused voice.
"No, I'm serious," Yusuf replied. "She'll never work as an architect anyways. Not as a real one."
"Well, I may not," Ariadne said after a short while, "but you can never know the future right?"
Arthur glanced at Eames, who winked back at him.
Ariadne shrugged. "These studies are an investment in my life, an insurance that there's something I know and something I can do, no matter what happens. Besides," she smiled, "I really like what I'm doing. There's no way I'm dropping out."
Arthur could see that Cobb was quietly smiling at that. It almost seemed as if he was proud of her, and Arthur started to wonder if Eames might have been right about them after all.
"Well, I think I'll be off to the security check now," Ariadne said. "I'll see you guys in a week." She turned to Eames. "Are you coming, too? Your gate is next to mine."
"You go on ahead, Ariadne," Eames replied. "I still got half an hour."
"Okay," Ariadne nodded. "Then see you soon, Eames, and you guys, see you in a week!"
They all wished her a good flight when she waved at them and left with her baggage.
"Well," Eames said after she was gone, "half an hour. I think I'll go grab a coffee or something." He looked around for a coffee shop. "You want some too, Arthur?"
"Uhm…" Arthur was a bit surprised at first, but then he got where Eames was going with that. "Yeah, sure. Let's go."
"Oh, yeah, coffee would be great now!" Yusuf merrily agreed and was just about to follow them, when Eames stopped, turned to him and cleared his throat.
"Huh?" Yusuf stopped. "What? Am I not…?" But then he understood, rolling his eyes. "Oh, I get it. Fine, then at least be so kind and bring one back for me with you, will you?"
"I will," Eames agreed, "at least I'll try not to forget."
"Yeah, you better not!" Yusuf yelled after him, but Eames and Arthur were already gone. He snorted and turned to Cobb, pointing after them. "That's crazy, right? I mean, them, together? So weird!"
"Yeah, well," Cobb simply shrugged, wisely not saying anything against unlikely people getting together.
Two months had passed ever since then and life had continued just the way it always had before. In Mombasa, Eames had gotten the chance to take on several jobs, some of them being successful, some of them being less so, but that was just the risk you always had to take. He didn't end up in hospital, which was always a bonus, and the pay hadn't been something to be scoffed at, either.
Of course, there was always the chance to make more out of it.
So this afternoon – like the day before that –, Eames was sitting at a gambling table at the casino, and just now waiting for his opponent to make his choice.
Luck had been in his favor all day, so when the cards Eames flipped open after a few moments took his opponent's once again, the elderly man threw his remaining hand on the table and left with a few Swahili curses.
Eames enjoyed himself and collected the poker chips that now officially belonged to him. He arranged them neatly and cherished the sight of them all together one last time, because his next opponent was already waiting in line.
"Is this seat taken?" that said opponent wanted to know as he stepped up to the table.
"No," Eames replied nonchalantly, still being busy arranging his chips.
"How much, Sir?" the dealer asked the new participant with snobbish voice.
"Uhm," the man replied, "I guess there's no need to be stingy now. My boss gave me quite a vacation bonus."
Eames frowned as a thought crossed his mind. No… No way. I mean, seriously. What should he be doing down here in Mombasa? But the voice… No, no need to get your hopes up. And still, Eames raised his eyes and looked up at the mysterious stranger after all, just to see Arthur grinning back merrily at him.
Arthur, for real!
"No way!" Eames face lit up and made his eyes shine as he shook his head. "You gotta be kidding me! What the hell are you doing here?!"
The smug smile on Arthur's face revealed more about the way he was feeling than he could have ever explained. He took the cards the dealer handed him. "Thanks."
"Geez, Arthur, you really got me!" Eames couldn't stop shaking his head. "That's a pleasant surprise!"
Arthur grinned. "And by pleasant you mean unpleasant."
Eames chuckled. "And by pleasant I do mean pleasant."
"Place your bet, Mr. Eames," Arthur said with a sharp glance, "I don't have all day. I need to catch a dinner reservation at six."
"Oh, of course," Eames replied smugly, "we wouldn't want you to miss that." He took his own cards into his hand and played his best game. And even though, in the end, Arthur had the winning hand, Eames could say for sure that there were some games that could end with more than one person winning.
To be continued soon. It would be nice of you left a short review if you liked the story :) Thanks!