Kat (clearillusion) wrote,
Kat
clearillusion

We Are All Illuminated [1]

Part 2 | Part 3
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Swim with your sorrows
I tried delusion for a while
It's such a beautiful lie
You gotta lose inhibition
Romance your ego for a while
Come on give it a try

Suddenly my eyes are open
Everything comes into focus
We are all illuminated
Lights are shining on our faces, blinded


***


A dark room, unfurnished apart from a sole table, two rickety chairs. A single bare lightbulb, low wattage and as good as useless.

Two photos, pushed across the desk.

“Do you recognise these children?”

“No.”

“Do you know the name Dominic Cobb?”

“Y-Yes.”

“These are his children. Do as I tell you, and they won’t get hurt.”


**


Eames has known warmer nights, the ‘fresh air’ that Arthur had asked that they go find more a cold wind than a cool breeze. Still, the other man is warm at his side, stood close in an intimate embrace as they share the view from the high balcony. Paris is sprawled out beneath them, a picture of bright lights in the darkness. Whilst Eames believes Paris to be a beautiful city by day, he much prefers the sights after dark. For a long while, he’s happy to stand there in contented silence, one arm leant against the balcony’s edge, the other around his lover’s slender hips.

There’s a noise, a strange one, sounding for all the world like a mobile phone. Which would make perfect sense, Eames thinks, if he were anywhere near his. He knows, however, with complete conviction, that he hasn’t got his on him. He doesn’t even bother checking his pockets. He turns his head to look at Arthur, wondering if it’s his phone bothering him, but the other man doesn’t show any sign that he’s even heard the noise.

Frowning, more surprised than confused, Eames forces himself to consider his situation. Does he remember how he and Arthur had gotten up onto this balcony? What had they been doing before? He can’t answer either question, and it comes as no great surprise when the view suddenly changes to that of his bedroom ceiling. One of the perks of his time spent working in the dreamscape; even in his normal dreams he’s able to find some degree of lucid thinking.

The room is light, despite the drawn curtains, but before Eames is able to consider the implications of those facts he finds himself being covered by Arthur’s body, his partner stretching across him as he gropes blindly for his phone on the nightstand. The dark-haired man stubbornly refuses to open his eyes to the daylight, refuses even to move himself off of his lover once his fingers finally make purchase on the ringing device. Rolling his eyes, chuckling fondly, Eames doesn’t say anything, instead places a hand over the other man’s bare back where he lays.

“’lo?” Arthur’s voice sounds more asleep than awake as he manages to answer his phone, pressing it to his ear without checking his caller display. Eames cannot hear who’s on the other end, but he tries to work out the conversation anyway, closing his eyes again and listening in on his partner’s half the conversation.

“Yes, you did... no, it doesn’t matter... no, I’m fine, just got in late last night... Paris... Ariadne’s been at us to come and visit her... Yes, she’s fine. She sends her regards, actually... You do?” There’s a subtle change of tone in those two words. Whatever is being said down the phone line now has Arthur’s full attention, the slight man finally pushing away from Eames’ gentle embrace and sitting up properly, sliding himself out of bed and pulling on last night’s shirt in some vague attempt at modesty. Judging by Arthur’s silence, Eames figures whoever is on the other end of the line is now reciting their life history or something, and by the time Arthur starts talking again he is out of both the bedroom and easy earshot. Eames can hear the murmur of his voice, but nothing more detailed than that. Too tired to be nosy, he rolls over into the patch of warmth left behind by Arthur’s body, burying his face in the pillow and considering trying to get back to sleep.

He’s almost there, right on the verge of falling back into his dreams, when he becomes aware of footsteps padding back up the hall towards the bedroom, the gentle creak of the door opening wider, and then the dip at the edge of the mattress as Arthur sits himself down there.

“Cobb,” Arthur answers Eames’ question before he even has a chance to ask it.

“Cobb? At...?” Eames rolls again, cracks open an eye to look at the fluorescent light of their alarm clock. 09:57. A perfectly reasonable hour to call. They really had slept in late. He figures it’s excusable however, considering their flight from Paris hadn’t landed until near 2am. “What did he want?” He asks, rubbing his eyes and trying to sound at least half awake. He knows Arthur and Dom speak regularly, that they had been good friends before the Fischer job and that that was still the case now, even if they no longer worked jobs together. Still, he has a feeling that the phone call that had just occurred was more than just a social call.

“A job,” Arthur answers.

**


Eames and Arthur don’t live too far from Cobb, and despite their late start, they’re knocking on his door shortly before midday. Normally visiting to see James and Philippa, as much as their father, Eames finds it a little strange at first not to hear two sets of little feet pounding down the hall , shrieks of ‘Uncle Arthur’ and ‘Uncle Eames’ reaching him through the closed door. Instead, it’s just Cobb who appears in the doorway, smile warm as ever when greeting his friends and old teammates.

Handshakes and manly smacks on the back done with, Cobb leads the way towards his lounge. Eames and Arthur follow on behind, though pause a short way down the hall to admire James’ latest offering from his school art lessons. “Ah, macaroni and glue,” Eames chuckles, glad to see some things never change, and then laughs harder at Cobb’s less than polite suggestion as to what he was going to do if even more dried pasta came home that afternoon in his children’s school bags.

Making his way through to the lounge, the British man falls onto the nearest couch. Immediately making himself at home, he stretches his arms out over the back of the furniture and relaxes into the ample cushions. Arthur, prim and proper as ever, sits next to him with his backside perched on the very edge of the seat.

“I thought you weren’t doing extractions anymore?” Arthur’s straight to the point, frowning at his friend as he sits down across from them, hands clasped between his knees and looking more than a little guilty.

“Yeah, so did I,” Cobb agrees, before giving a little shrug of his shoulders. “But you know how it is.”

“You can’t ever stop, not really,” Arthur responds.

“It’s been three years,” Cobb continues, the slightest of nods his only acknowledgement of Arthur’s words. “The kids are fine. I’m fine. I haven’t had the authorities knocking on the door. Whatever Saito said, it’s worked. I’m free. And, you know, that’s great. I love being here. I love being a dad. I’ve spent three years saying no when people offer me jobs, but... I just think it’s been long enough. I can’t not work, ever again.”

“Well, with the money we’ve earned over the years...” Arthur argues, just as Eames had expected. It’s been his partner’s argument for the last three years, towards himself as much as anyone else. He’s got enough money saved – hell, enough money from the Fischer job alone – to guarantee he’ll never have to take another job ever again. Why should he be working illegal jobs when he has no need of the reward? Why risk everything, for nothing? So instead of playing point man, or even extractor like he once had, Arthur has spent his time working in subconscious security. He claims it to be ‘more legal’ than working extractions, and it allows him enough freedom to settle down a bit. Eames can see where his lover is coming from, but he can’t agree. The illegal jobs, to the forger, are more than just a means of money. It’s his living. It’s an adrenaline rush he can’t get from anything else. He’s continued to work in the years since the Fischer Inception, both in dreamscapes and in the real world, having made several good connections with con artists in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. He’s been back to Mombasa every so often, to keep up with his contacts there, and every so often he’s been called away on jobs back home in London. He prefers the Stateside jobs, closer to Arthur, but at the end of the day he’ll go where he’s needed. So long as he keeps working. He’s not so ready to settle down completely.

“It’s not the money, Arthur,” Cobb sighs. “You know that. It’s never been about the money.”

“Yeah,” Arthur drops his head. “Yeah, I know.”

“It’s an easy job,” Cobb begins to explain, and Eames thinks it’s possibly solely for his own benefit. Dom’s looking straight at him now, and the length of time Arthur had been on the phone earlier, he figures his partner already knows the gist. “Well, y’know. A simple job. Private client, potentially cheating spouse. If we can get Ariadne involved, that should be all we need. No need for multiple levels, or sedatives, or anything overly complicated.”

“In, extract, out, and off we go,” Eames summarises with a nod. Unlike Arthur, he’s happy to take up near any job offered to him. The fact that it’s Cobb asking, suggesting getting the old team together, and his cooperation is practically guaranteed. There’s one thing bothering him, though. “Sounds easy. The kind of thing you two did together with Nash, back before the Fischer job. Why are you getting me involved?”

Cobb shrugs. “If you were still hanging out in Mombasa, or London, I probably wouldn’t have called. But now you’re just down the road? Your skills are always welcome, Eames.”

“I think you’d better tell us the job in full,” Arthur finally speaks up. Glancing over at his partner, Eames registers that little half-grin of his, and he can tell that the other man’s finally given in. Eames knows Arthur well enough by now to know that his talk of giving up as a point man, as Cobb’s right hand man, was only ever talk. All he’d needed was the right opportunity. Their business was addictive.

“I got a call from this woman, Mrs. Neill. I suppose our business isn’t the best kept secret, not in certain circles. She says she has more than enough money to hire me, and a team of any size, to go into her husband’s subconscious. She’s convinced he’s having an affair, but can’t find any incriminating evidence. She wants me - us - to extract the information from him.”

“Our information won’t exactly stand up in a divorce court,” Arthur points out.

“As far as I’m aware, she believes our evidence will be enough to make her husband admit to his affair. That’s all she needs.” Cobb explains. “It’s simple, Arthur. Simple as we could ever get. We’re not going about shutting down global conglomerations here. It’s an easy way back in. No risks involved.”

“Well, I’m in,” Eames states, hardly needing to think it over. He misses working with Cobb, misses working with Arthur as well, in an odd way. He sees the man sat next to him near enough every day. He’s the first thing he sees in the morning, the last thing he sees at night. But he misses seeing him focused on a job, going through every little piece of information on a mark, building up a character profile. He misses watching him handle a gun, touching those weapons with all the skill and tenderness that they touch each other with in the bedroom. He even misses the sight of him passed out, hooked up to the PASIV, knowing that he’ll be running around, guns blazing, in the dreamscape whilst he lies there in reality, looking nothing other than serene. Even Cobb’s comment as to the simplicity of the job doesn’t phase him; he’d be happy doing pretty much anything with the two men he was currently sat down with.

Arthur, for his part, looks over to Eames briefly before turning back to Cobb and nodding slowly. “We’re both in.”

**


It’s near midnight when Eames hears the doors in the hallway outside the apartment rattle, a telltale sign that someone had entered the block. He hopes that it’s Arthur; his lover’s been gone since early afternoon, and he’ll admit to himself that he’s missing the man. He had grown complacent, with Arthur’s semi-retirement, had gotten used to being the one who left early and crawled back in at all hours. Less-than-legal activities seemed to struggle to fit into the 9-5 work day. But now Arthur was back on a job – a proper job, in Eames’ mind – and attacking it with all the gusto that had been his trademark before. Especially after his mistake in not discovering Fischer’s subconscious security, Arthur seemed determined not to leave a single stone unturned in the current case.

A few minutes after the warning rattle of doors, Eames hears the sound of a key sliding into the lock of the front door, hears the catch opening and the door creaking open. There’s silence for a moment, and then a hesitant “Eames? ‘m home.”

Closing his book and placing it on the coffee table, Eames swings his feet off of the couch and onto the floor, standing up and stretching, rolling his head and listening to his neck creak and crack. Padding out of the lounge, he smiles at the sight of Arthur at the doorway, toeing off his shoes. Only his lover could look so composed and well put together, not a hair out of place or a single crease in his three-piece suit, at gone midnight. Quickly closing the distance between them, Eames gives Arthur a playful shove against the wall, pressing his body up against the other man’s and giving him a firm kiss hello.

“You smell... perfumed,” he decides, wrinkling his nose dramatically as he lets Arthur go.

“Margo’s a fan of perfume,” Arthur retorts dryly, looking equally unimpressed with his scent. Slipping his hand into Eames’, he gives a gentle squeeze and starts to lead his partner through to the bedroom. Eames had been ready to offer the other man food and drink, not sure whether he’d have gotten anything interviewing their mark’s wife, but Arthur was seemingly interested only in bed.

“How was Beverly Hills?” Eames smirks as he asks the question, following Arthur’s lead and sitting himself on the edge of their bed, starting to undress himself. He can just imagine his lover sitting there, surrounded by tacky, over-the-top finery, arse resting on a chair that cost more than their entire apartment. Of course, Arthur has expensive tastes, Eames has learnt that well over their years of being a couple. The man wears designer brands, all the way down to his underwear, and none of their home furnishings are exactly cheap. But Eames knows that an expensive taste is too simple a term; his partner is tasteful. He’s been on jobs in places like Beverly Hills as well, and he’s seen firsthand how money can go to a person’s head. Rooms full of solid gold statutory make a person look like they’re trying too hard.

“You’ve worked jobs there,” Arthur smirks. “I am sure you can imagine my views on the area.”

Eames chuckles. “You hated it.”

“Loathed it. I’m there five minutes and Margo hauls out this wine cooler, full of ice and champagne. I swear to God I could have taken a bath in it, the size it was, and solid silver as well. She told me that at least three times.”

“She tell you anything useful?”

“She’s given me her husband’s life story. At least, that’s how it felt. You know, I hope for her sake the man’s having an affair; she’s utterly convinced of it.” There’s a pause, and Eames can tell Arthur’s holding something back, trying to decide whether or not to divulge some fact. Before he can press the matter, his partner makes up his own mind to share. “She asked me if I wanted to go for dinner, tomorrow night.”

Eames is protective of Arthur. It’s in his blood, part of who he is. If they’re out together, all it takes is some guy or girl to look flirtatiously at his lover and he’ll have an arm around his slender shoulders, pressing exaggerated kisses to his face and throat. He likes people to know that Arthur’s taken. Not because he doesn’t think Arthur’s not strong enough to turn people down on his own, and not because he’s worried that Arthur will stray, but because he’s proud. Because he wants the world to see that he’s gotten himself the best possible lover a person could ever have. Arthur is his, and that makes everybody else that little less lucky. “You turned her down, of course,” Eames doesn’t have to ask, though he reaches out for Arthur as he lies down on their bed and hauls him close.

“Of course. I told her my wife was waiting for me at home.”

You’re the wife, darling.”

“No I’m not.”

“You want me to prove it?” Eames rolls quickly, pressing himself down over Arthur’s body, and all thought of sleep goes quickly out of the window.

**


It feels strange, gathering in Cobb’s suburban family home, rather than locating a cavernous safe-house somewhere in the LA underbelly. But the job’s a domestic one for once, nothing corporate or overly dangerous. If this job goes south, the worst they’re going to suffer is no expenses paid and an unsatisfied client. Compared to previous threats against his life, or falling into Limbo for an indeterminate length of time, Eames figures he can deal with the possibility of not getting paid.

So here they are, the old team back together, spread out on the various, mismatched chairs and couches that make up Cobb’s lounge. The kids have gone away with their grandparents for the week, long enough for the job to be done. Whilst Dom is happy to accept that he can’t shake the bug to work another job, he keeps firm to his word that his children aren’t getting involved. He doesn’t want them knowing what their daddy does for a living. Eames and Arthur have been in from the very beginning, and Ariadne had flown herself over from Paris at the first opportunity. Now a fully-fledged architect in her own right, Eames had been amused to hear how little persuasion had been needed to get her over to America on the job. He hadn’t been sure whether she was going to say yes, wondering whether her stable, legal job would have been enough to keep her away from the world of shared dreaming. Apparently even she couldn’t find it within her to leave it all behind.

More of a surprise had been Yusuf. They had no real need of a chemist on this job; they needed the same compounds for the PASIV as always, but Eames had phoned his old friend only to ask for a delivery. Instead, they had gotten to talking about the job, and the next thing anyone knew the chemist himself had been ringing on the doorbell. “I had nothing else to be doing,” had been his excuse, and Cobb had just laughed. It seemed that, once you’d worked a job with Dominic Cobb, you just couldn’t help coming back for more. Arthur’s loyalty to the man, over so many years, was quickly starting to make a lot more sense. No one else could help themselves either.

**


The assembled team open their eyes to the foyer of a grand hotel, all the fittings and fixtures decorated in gold leaf. It reeks of expensive taste, just the kind of place their mark would be likely to check into on one of his business trips. Ariadne’s design appears as faultless as ever. Unfortunately, Eames isn’t able to form much more of an opinion before a bullet soars past, missing him by inches and embedding itself in the wall.

“To me!” Cobb yells, making a dive for the unmanned reception desk, falling down behind it. Following suit, Eames makes a dash for it, not stopping to try and work out where the gunfire is coming from. Ducking down behind their momentary shield, he joins the rest of the team in quickly preparing their firearms.

“Subconscious security,” Arthur is speaking fast and hushed, looking up as he clicks the safety off of his gun.

“We knew it was a risk,” Cobb answers. “Arthur, you’re with me, we need to find Neill. The rest of you... stay here. Keep us covered. We’ll be as quick as we can.” As Arthur jumps up to his feet, a bullet goes flying through the air, missing the point-man’s head by little more than an inch. With no time to be lost, Cobb and Arthur immediately start to run, quickly disappearing up the nearest staircase.

Kneeling up behind the reception desk, Eames locates the enemy in his sights. The important thing is keeping Cobb and Arthur covered, if they want to keep the job from going south before it’s even truly begun. Bullets flying from his own gun, he fells several of their attackers in one sweep. The security seem weak; there are only a few men, poorly hidden and ill-camouflaged behind the foyer’s golden pillars, their attention seemingly fixed on himself and his companions as opposed to Arthur and Cobb. If any had followed the extractor and point-man, then they were silent, no sounds of gunfire or fighting coming from the direction of the main flight of stairs. Whoever had taught Michael Neill to militarise his subconscious had, seemingly, done a very half-hearted job over it. Four of the enemy are lying dead on the floor before Eames has to duck down for more ammunition.

Ariadne and Yusuf kneel as Eames drops, covering him as he reloads, both firing shots at the hostile projections. The forger has barely had a chance to do anything, however, before he hears the sound of a human body falling to the ground; a dead weight. The sound is too close to him to be one of Neill’s subconscious. Looking to his right, he lets out a sigh as he sees Ariadne lying there, dead eyes staring up at the ceiling with a bloody hole in the centre of her forehead. The girl had never really taken to using arms. Almost immediately after, and Yusuf is on the ground as well, a similar hole between his eyebrows. “Jesus Christ,” Eames swears, turning his head away from the sight of his two dead friends. Even if it is only in a dream, it isn’t an easy thing to look at.

Gun ready, Eames stands back up with a roar of anger, promising revenge for Ariadne and for Yusuf. There’s nobody left to shoot at, however, and with another curse he runs after Arthur and Cobb.

**


Extractor, forger and point man wake up together as the timer on the PASIV counts down to zero, all blinking dopily in the darkness of Michael and Margo Neill’s master bedroom. Eames is aware of Yusuf and Ariadne’s expectant eyes on them, but he knows there’s no time now to explain what they had found in their mark’s subconscious. Whilst he was still fast asleep for the moment, the PASIV device was only giving them a couple of minutes to make their escape. Beside him, Arthur’s already up on his feet, jaw tense as he twists all the IV lines back into the silver, technology-holding, case. With a nod to say that he’s done, the team of five beat a hasty retreat downstairs and out into the night.

“He was having an affair,” Cobb finally breaks the silence as he slides behind the wheel of his car, Arthur in the passenger seat beside him, Eames and the other two in the back. “Though we almost didn’t find that much out.”

“I’ve already apologised!” Arthur grunts out, and although Eames cannot see his lover’s face, he can hear the mix of irritation and guilt on his voice.

“The information wasn’t in the room safe?”

“No, it was. It doesn’t matter now.” Cobb sounds apologetic, and Eames is happy to let the whole thing go – at least until he and Arthur are back in the privacy of their own apartment – but Arthur seems determined to explain himself.

“The safe combination was his birth date. His real birth date. Turns out Neill’s been trying to pass himself off as five years younger than he actually is for quite a while now – that was the birth date his subconscious had used.”

“It’s done now,” Cobb placates his best friend, before quickly changing the topic. “Good work, Ariadne. The hotel was perfect.”

The young architect blushes under Cobb’s praise, trying to hide it by looking out at the rapidly dwindling form of the Neills’ house as Cobb picks up speed. Margo knew the plan; she and Cobb would rendezvous in the morning to finalise the job. It wasn’t safe, speaking to her now, with her husband so close by.

Driving through the gates of the Beverly Hills community, pulling out onto the main road beyond, the whole team seems to let out a breath of relief. Job accomplished, information successfully extracted, and safely away with minimal problems. Even Neill’s subconscious security hadn’t caused them much concern, Eames considered, having encountered no more resistance as he followed Arthur and Cobb through the hotel. He opens his mouth, about to suggest they find some place to celebrate - there’s bound to be some bar or club still open at this hour - but any words that come from his mouth are swallowed up by Cobb’s sudden, loud, expletive. The car swerves violently as the extractor steers to avoid another car, flying at them across the junction. “Idiot!” Cobb yells, as the two cars miss each other by scant inches, horns blaring all around. “Fucking drunk driver. My light was green.”

Whilst Eames doesn’t doubt that their run in was with a drunk driver, the situation still reminds him a little too much of the first level of the Fischer job; the security trying to run them off the roads. As Cobb starts the car moving forwards again, driving straight into heavy rain that seems to come out of nowhere, Eames has to reach into his pocket for the pocket-watch he always keeps there. He’s never had an issue keeping a hold on reality, and he’s still mostly sure that this is real, but the sudden change in weather combined with the near devastating car accident is enough to have a hint of doubt enter his mind. Of course, the little hands of the watch are still, frozen at 22 minutes past 4. Reality, pure and simple.

All around him, he can see the signs of his companions running similar checks. Ariadne has pulled her bishop totem from her jacket pocket, and he politely turns his head away so that he does not see her own test for reality. Yusuf is inspecting something in the palm of his hand, too small for Eames to see, even if he did want to pry. From the front passenger seat, he can hear the tell-tale noise of Arthur’s die rolling across the top of the PASIV case. Cobb’s unable to check anything whilst driving, but Eames is willing to bet a fair sum of money that their leader will disappear to spin his totem, when they next stop.

Catching Ariadne’s eye, she smiles, nodding slightly in silent agreement that her totem’s shown her the truth. Yusuf, as well, looks relieved when Eames nods his way. “Guess you don’t need to be dreaming to run into terrible driving and freak weather,” the chemist comments, and Eames laughs. His final doubts dissipate with Yusuf’s words; this really is reality. From the chair in front of him, Eames can hear Arthur still rolling his die, and he stretches forward to ruffle his lover’s hair.

“How many times have you got to roll that thing?” He chuckles, grinning as he sees Arthur’s hand come up to try and smooth down his hair. “Bloody perfectionist.” Arthur doesn’t answer back but the sound of the die stops, and Eames chuckles harder as he imagines his partner’s silent fuming. He knows the other man well enough to know there’s no real harm done between them.

**


“Is this about that safe combination?” The question is laced with frustration that Eames is unable to keep from his voice, not used to having his advances rejected. Especially not straight after a job. Having been dropped off by Cobb at their apartment, he and Arthur had run inside from the rain, and Eames had attempted to drag his lover all the way through to their bedroom. At the doorway, however, Arthur had dug his heels in and demanded that he was hungry and wanted to fix up something to eat. Even if it was 5am. Eames had let it go, but now that Arthur had demolished his toast, he was still fighting his advances.

“What?” Arthur looks up at Eames with a distracted frown across his face, mind seemingly elsewhere. “Is what about the safe combination?”

“The fact that you’re refusing to come to bed with me? I know what you’re like when you start blaming yourself for stuff.”

“What? No. I’m not... I’m not refusing... I’m just...”

Eames is sure he’s never heard Arthur sound so confused and distant. “You’re coming straight to bed,” he decides, there and then, though he’s no longer thinking of sex. Arthur’s out of practice with working extractions, and obviously the days of extensive research prior to the night’s events had brought him to the brink of exhaustion.

“I don’t feel – “

“I know, darling. I didn’t mean like that. You need to sleep.” Arthur doesn’t look much more convinced, but at least this time he nods in consent, standing up and taking Eames’ hand. They undress in silence, the high of a job well done crashing down between them, and despite the hour sleep eludes Eames for a long while.

**


The next day, everything seems back to normal. Arthur wakes Eames slightly before noon with insistent lips and wandering hands, and the Englishman figures that’s apology enough for the night before. They don’t bother to get out of bed until Arthur’s phone starts to ring in the early afternoon, Cobb declaring the job a complete success and promising to deliver payment within 24 hours.

A happy, lazy normalcy continues for the rest of the day. Finally dragging themselves out of bed, Eames pulls on underwear and relocates himself to the couch. Arthur potters around the kitchen for a bit, making them both coffee and pancakes, regardless of the time. They curl up together in front of the television, eating their late breakfast and drinking down caffeine, and when Cobb rings on the bell shortly after 7 in the evening Arthur invites him in and treats him as he always has. The confused, stammering man of the night before is all but forgotten.

When Cobb leaves them, an hour or so later, Arthur excuses himself to the bathroom. After ten minutes Eames realises he has yet to hear the sound of the shower and, curious, he goes to investigate. He finds his partner stood at the sink, staring at his own reflection in the mirror with his right hand clenched into a tight fist at his side.

“Arthur?”

The point-man visibly starts, right hand quickly slipping to his trouser pocket and slipping whatever was in his fist in there instead. “Eames. Sorry. Got lost in my own head for a minute.”

“I saw,” Eames manages a smile as Arthur turns to him, hiding away his worry. There was no way his partner could be exhausted this time - they’d barely done a thing today – and yet the early morning distraction was back across his lover’s face.

“I think it’s time for bed,” Arthur decides, sounding as if his mind is still a million miles away. Stepping away from the mirror, he walks straight past Eames and out through the bathroom door, stepping carefully so that he doesn’t brush against the other man. Eames decides not to mention that it’s not even 9 o’clock yet, nor that they didn’t get up until the afternoon. Instead, he mumbles a half-hearted “I’ll be through in a bit,” at a loss as to an explanation. He’s scared, hating knowing that there’s something wrong that he doesn’t understand. It twists his stomach, makes him feel nauseous.

Wandering back through to their lounge, Eames’ hand clasps at his phone. He considers phoning Cobb, but realises he has no idea what to say. How can he say that Arthur’s not acting right when their friend had been there less than an hour previously, whilst Arthur had been completely himself. As for Ariadne and Yusuf, well they were probably already on their way back to their respective home countries. Putting his phone away again, Eames forces himself to calm down. Two instances of his lover being distracted doesn’t mean that anything is seriously the matter. Perhaps he is still just tired from the night before. Or perhaps he’s sickening for something. Either way, it isn’t worth worrying Cobb. Not yet.

**


A week passes before Eames decides he has to say something to Cobb. If he was scared before, now he is frankly terrified. For the last six days, Arthur has grown more and more distant, to the point where Eames has begun to feel like he’s living with a ghost. He’s tried, again and again, to ask his lover what the matter is, but all Arthur has done is lie on his side of their bed, staring at the ceiling and choosing not to answer. At first, the point man had gotten up every so often, for food or drink or just a change of scenery, but by the end of the week even that had stopped. The last couple of days, Arthur hasn’t moved from the bed once, not showing the slightest glimmer of recognition when Eames has tried to talk to him.

So Eames gives in and rings Cobb. He only tells him the basics over the phone, that Arthur hasn’t been himself ever since last week’s job, that he’s growing more and more distant by the day. He apologises for bothering his friend, when he’s doubtless got James and Philippa to be looking after, but Cobb promises he’ll be over within the hour.

As it turns out, Cobb arrives not a moment too soon. Moments before the apartment’s buzzer goes off, Eames hears footsteps from the bedroom for the first time in days. Not knowing whether going and investigating will make things better or worse, he decides to give the beeping intercom his primary attention. On hearing Cobb’s voice, made strangely mechanical by the technology, Eames presses the button to release the lock on the main doors downstairs. Propping open the apartment’s front door as well, he leaves Cobb to find his own way, finally sticking his head into the bedroom.

What he sees almost gives Eames a heart attack. The sliding door out onto their pathetic excuse for a balcony has been pulled open, and Arthur is stood at the railing, looking down towards the ground, four storeys below. As Eames watches, his partner begins to move, raising one leg to begin clambering over the one thing keeping him from dropping to a certain death.

“Arthur!” Eames yells the name, body going into a panic-fuelled auto-pilot. He runs through the bedroom at an inhuman speed, throwing himself out onto the tiny balcony and throwing one arm around the other man’s slender waist just as it looks as if Arthur’s going to jump. Steadying himself against the railing, he brings his other arm around Arthur as well, leaning backwards and using all the weight he has to bring his lover back away from the edge. Arthur is – thankfully – weak from his days of self-imposed bedrest, and only puts up the most minimal of fights before Eames wins out and they both go tumbling to the wooden-slatted floor.

“Jesus Christ, what’s going on here?” Cobb’s voice is coming from the open doorway into the bedroom, and all Eames can do is echo the sentiment. Rocking up onto his knees, he hauls Arthur with him, manhandling the other man until he’s sat with his back to the brick outer wall of their apartment.

“What the fuck were you doing, Arthur?” He demands of his lover, the fear of a moment ago quickly being replaced by anger. He’d known something was wrong, but he’d always assumed Arthur would talk to him before doing something like this.

“I’m sorry.” Arthur’s voice is monotone, devoid of any form of emotion. The apology sounds hollow, fake.

“You’re sorry?! You were a second away from throwing yourself off the fucking building!”

“Eames...” Cobb’s voice feels strangely out of place, gentle and compassionate amidst Eames’ explosive anger and Arthur’s emotionless monotone. “Calm down.”

“Calm down? Don’t you fucking tell me to –“ The rest of Eames’ words die in his throat as he looks up at Cobb, expecting some form of eye-contact only to discover that his friend’s line of sight is fixed on Arthur. It makes Eames feel suddenly guilty for causing a fuss, when this isn’t about him; this is all about Arthur. Lowering his head, suitably abashed, he lets his hand seek out his lover’s instead, squeezing it and feeling his chest ache when he gets no response from the lithe man at his side.

“Arthur,” Cobb takes over from Eames, squatting down on the ground in front of his best friend. He looks directly at the point man and slowly, begrudgingly, Arthur looks up to meet his eye. “What were you doing?”

“I...” Arthur’s voice comes out hoarse and quiet. “I just want to wake up.”



Part 2 | Part 3
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