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They go back to their current apartment (a different one from where Jones tracked them down to, because they’re not stupid). But even that won’t give them much time. They should have enough time, though, just enough to grab a few necessities and destroy all trace of their presence.

“It was a set up,” Arthur hisses. He’s on the verge of yelling, but they both know they need to keep quiet.

Eames doesn’t bother to reply. He knows it was, just as well as Arthur does. Peter had been waiting for them, in the dream. He’d been with the subject, and Eames doesn’t know what they were planning, but he can guess. The only people who’d know their way around the dream scape like that would be other extractors.

“…other extractors,” Arthur is saying. And Eames has to laugh, because they’re still so in sync. They probably always will be.

“We can’t help being popular, darling,” Eames tells him. And Arthur looks surprised, and a little angry, that he’s being so flippant at a time like this, but then he looks at Eames properly. Sees how worried he is. And Arthur stops then, comes over and presses a brief kiss to Eames’ lips.

But that’s what it is, Eames suspects. They are the best, and they are competition. Other extractors are going to want to take them out, and many of their clients would be willing to help, just for the fun of it (like Jones, Eames thinks), or out of paranoia, now that Eames and Arthur know so many of their secrets. He tells Arthur as much.

“We’re going to have to split up,” Arthur says. He’s gone back to packing, now, throwing his last few belongings into a bag, wiping down surfaces, destroying anything they can’t take with them (which isn’t much – they’ve gotten used to having to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice). “I’ll lead them off,” he continues, “you just get out of the city.”

It’s at that point that the first gun-shot flies through the wall, and Eames doesn’t even have time to argue before they’re running, again, out the back entrance. The gun fire was coming from the other direction, so they should have time to get away. And it would be safer, if they split up. They’ll be harder to track. He knows Arthur’s right.

So he pulls him in to an alleyway, a small side street, and isn’t this just like them. Arthur is still in flight mode, looking about anxiously. He was always far more military than Eames.

“I’ll call you,” Eames says, still smiling. It’s not a situation in which he ever expected to use that phrase.
Arthur stops, then. It’s quiet, where they are. No one is following for the moment. They’ve got a few minutes, maybe.

There isn’t really anything more to say. They’ll meet up again, when they can. When the heat is off them. Jones will lose interest, no doubt. If they go underground for a while, maybe Peter will too. Maybe.

There’s the sound of footsteps approaching. Arthur is alert again, they’re both alert now. Eames kisses him, and then they pull away. The footsteps, running now, are coming ever closer.

“I love you,” Arthur says. And then he disappears into the darkness.

*

Eames doesn’t see him again for six months. Even then, it’s brief, too brief. It’s always too brief. And they go on that way, spending time apart, always apart, barely seeing each other for months on end.

In that time, Eames mostly stays in Paris. He takes a few jobs here and there, mostly simple ones. He could do far more complicated jobs on his own, if he wanted to, but it doesn’t feel right. So he sticks to the basics. He works the jobs he wants to work on his own, and he becomes so boring and unthreatening that he mostly gets left alone. He also, in an apparent fit of collective paranoia, gets bribed copious amounts by several of his clients not to sell them out. He takes the money, and then he takes more money from the people looking to buy said secrets. He feels fairly morally bankrupt, but he also doesn’t care all that much, really, in the end. He uses the money to take extended breaks all over Europe, lying low and just exploring.

He contacts Arthur a few times, and they exchange brief messages. But they can’t say much, out of caution. Most of what Eames finds out about Arthur during that period is from other sources. He keeps one hand in the extraction business, and keeps an eye on Arthur, who is still working. In America, apparently. He hasn’t been to see Mal and Dom, as far as Eames can tell. But he is still working, extracting for various people. It’s dangerous. Eames worries.

He goes back to their apartment, once or twice. It’s still locked up, still abandoned. They still haven’t risked going back there, not properly. But as far as Eames can tell, it’s still safe. Waiting for something.

When they’d first split up, Arthur had taken the make-up kit. He’d obviously though, as had Eames (perhaps foolishly) that they would be together again soon. Besides, it’s almost become their ritual, in a way. So Eames waits. He buys some of the more easily transported things, uses some of the money he’s accumulating. Life goes on as usual.

And then, one day, all the things Arthur had taken, the things that belonged to Eames, show up in the mail.

Eames throws them away. Arthur’s message couldn’t be clearer.

They don’t really communicate again after that. Eames takes off again, around Europe, Asia. He works a few jobs in Australia. He works his way back into the rapidly growing extraction business, making a name for himself again as a forger. The only person more infamous now, in the dream share world, is Arthur.

He stays away for almost three years. And then he comes back to Paris. And, for no reason that he can discern, decides to stay.

Eames takes up residence close to their old house. Now that the project has left the University, and he isn’t so high profile as he used to be in the dream world, he can afford to do so. It’s nice to be back in their old neighbourhood. It’s quiet.

Which is why the sound of sirens in the middle of the night is so unusual.

They’re close by, too, which is enough for Eames to worry. They pass by Eames’ apartment, three in a row. Fire engines. No ambulance or police, though. Eames watches them go. They’re heading towards the area in which their old house was, and Eames knows what’s happened. If he doesn’t go out there, though, then maybe he can avoid reality for a few more hours, pretend like most of his life hasn’t disappeared.

And then Arthur shows up on his doorstep.

He looks awful, from an impartial point of view. He’s sweating, he has a scrape across one cheek, and his eyes are red rimmed, as if from crying (and maybe a little from smoke). He’s a mess.

Eames doesn’t think twice before pulling him inside. And he’s babbling already, “I’m so fucking sorry, Jamie, Christ, they followed me and I had to find you and I didn’t know where to start looking and –“ Eames covers his mouth with his hand, pulls him upstairs by one arm. And Arthur tries to keep talking, through the barrier, until Eames tells him “Don’t want to wake the neighbours,” and he subsides, a little.

They get upstairs, eventually, and inside Eames’ flat. And he lets go of Arthur, then, and sits back to watch him pace.

There is silence for maybe ten minutes, before Arthur tells him, “Mal’s dead.”

Eames has never been in an earthquake, never lived anywhere remotely unsafe, but he imagines this is what it feels like to have the floor fall out from underneath him.

And he should have known something awful had happened, because Arthur is never this careless, never, but God, he’d never thought it would be this.

“When’s the funeral?” he says. He can hear the note of hysteria in his voice.

“Last Tuesday,” Arthur says, and then, “They think Dom did it.”

“Did he?” Eames asks.

Arthur won’t even look at him anymore. “I don’t think so,” he says.

And that’s really all there is to it.

*

Except when it isn’t.

Mal and Dom have two kids, now. Had. Mal had them, because she’s gone now. And Dom might go to prison for a crime he (probably) didn’t commit. And Eames always knew it would be like this, in the end.

Arthur doesn’t say “I’m going back to the States”. He doesn’t say “I’m going to help Dom” or “we’re going in to business together” (still talking in code after all this time). He doesn’t say much at all.

Eames says, “We had a good run, didn’t we?”

Arthur leaves. And that’s the end.

*

Except when it isn’t.

No one knows this, no one notices, and Eames will never tell. But he follows Arthur back to the States. It’s harder than it’s ever been, because whatever work Arthur has been doing has made him extremely good at losing tails. Eames, of course, has become very good at tailing, so it cancels out a little in the end. He even catches the same flight.

Arthur flies in to New York. He then makes his way, through a series of flights, across the country. Eames follows him for a while, then, when he’s sure Arthur is going to California to meet Dom, he takes a direct flight from New Orleans. He arrives ahead of Arthur, and watches him as he comes out of the airport.

He is met by a man in a suit. Eames isn’t close enough to overhear them, and they are of course angled in such a way that Eames can’t read their lips. But he looks like a lawyer, to Eames.

The pair disappear together. Eames doesn’t bother following them for now. Instead, he goes to the ticket desk, and books two tickets to Vienna. Arthur mentioned liking Vienna, once. Then he tracks down the law firm representing Dominic Cobb.

It isn’t hard. Mal’s murder has been quite the sensation, apparently. Everyone who is everyone knows everything. About how her husband was threatening her, about how he pushed her out a window. About how they were mixed up in something top secret, something to do with the government.

From that, Eames gathers her death had something to do with dreams. Any more than that, he suspects, only Arthur, Dom, or Mal would know.

Eames goes to the law firm. Sure enough, Arthur and the lawyer are there. Eames leaves the tickets at the front desk, along with contact details for several people he knows in Vienna. He’s sure Arthur will be able to get them out of L.A.

He sticks around, though, just to make sure. He watches, from the street, as the lawyer goes into the Cobb house (a beautiful piece of modern architecture, so perfectly them), as Cobb comes out, looks both ways, and then leaves.

Arthur meets him at the airport, and they get on a plane. Eames watches them go, waits until the plane has taken off. And then he goes back to Paris.

He doesn’t stay long. He just goes to the apartment. Looks at the ruins, the half burned down walls. Everything is gone. All their things.

The only thing left standing is the low garden wall. So Eames steps over it, goes inside.

It’s obvious the fire was set. And carefully, too. These people took their time. They haven’t left anything un-burnt.

Except one thing. Most of what Eames owned is gone. But one Christmas, the one Christmas they had before everything went wrong, Mal and Arthur had bought him a necklace, with earrings to match. It was obviously old, an antique, and very expensive. And beautiful. And how ironic, that it should be one earring from that set that survives. It’s covered in ashes, a little, but it’s otherwise fine. Eames picks it up, dusts it off. Pockets it. And then he leaves.

He stands in Charles de Gaulle. And then he books a flight to Mombasa. Arthur never liked Africa. Eames has never been.

*

He makes the decision not to keep track of Arthur. But he hears, anyway. Hears about Dominic Cobb, who is a crazy motherfucker, but is the best extractor in the business. Hears about his shadow.

He also hears rumours, around Mombasa. He’s heard them before, but he’s never been in the region, and so has never been in the position to investigate their truthfulness.

The rumours talked about a chemist, out here in Mombasa. Yusuf, his name is. Apparently, he’s the best.
Eames tracks him down to a lab on the south side of the city.

From the outside, it looks deserted. This whole area is quiet, for Mombasa. A few people wander past every so often, but not many.

Eames goes around to the back of the building. There he finds a door. It is unlocked, and open, so Eames goes inside.

Almost immediately, he comes up against a staircase. Upstairs sounds reasonably quiet, and so Eames goes downstairs.

He enters a room full of sleeping people, mostly older men. And he knows what this place must be, has heard about them but never seen one. It’s one of the many uses the initial dream share project imagined for their work, that it would be used in therapy, to help these old men.

There is a man standing in the middle of the room, checking on the PASIV. When he turns and sees Eames, he doesn’t startle. He just smiles, and says, “Hello.”

Eames knows they’re going to get along just fine.

*

There’s a designer knock off store just down the road from Eames’ apartment. It sells men’s clothes, but, as most clothing stores do, it prominently displays women’s clothing in the window. Eames walks past it every day, even more now that he’s working with Yusuf on a regular basis, and it’s the quickest way to get out of his neighbourhood. He changes up the rest of the route, just out of habit (for safety), but he always walks past this store. A few weeks after he moves to Mombasa, they have a green dress in the window.

Eames never goes inside, and it feels like the end, really, of him and Arthur. Of him and Mal.

In the dreamscape, though, he changes his totem. When he’s dreaming, everyone notices, he always carries a pair of diamond earrings, in pristine condition. And in real life, he carries just one, all broken.

Yusuf sees that. He sees Eames walk past the store, and deliberately not look. But he doesn’t ask questions. Eames suspects it’s because he probably doesn’t need to. He seems to be fairly good at anticipating Eames’ behaviour.

They go into a dream together. Yusuf doesn’t go out into the field, but he knows how dreams work, and how to navigate them. He has to, in order to do his job, and it’s this understanding, along with a willingness to try anything, that makes him so good. It was what made Mal so good.

And he hasn’t thought about Mal in years, hasn’t allowed himself to. Which is probably why, when he enters the dreamscape, he appears as a dark haired woman.

He doesn’t look exactly like her. He’s heard rumours, about what happens when you build directly from memory, and so he makes every effort not to. But he captures the essence of her. And it isn’t even on purpose, he just knew her so well, it just happens.

Yusuf doesn’t even appear to notice. And it’s not that he doesn’t notice the Mal-ness of Eames, because he never met her, and he’s never worked with Dom before. It’s that he doesn’t even notice that Eames is in a woman’s body.

Eames doesn’t ask him about it, though. He just observes Yusuf, in every dream they go in to. And he never notices. He does react a little differently, when Eames, out of interest, forges the woman he perceives himself to be, but it isn’t much of a difference. There’s just a slight hint of familiarity that isn’t there with his other forgeries. At first, Eames thinks Yusuf has just seen everything, but then he realises it isn’t that at all. It’s that Yusuf genuinely hasn’t noticed.

(It isn’t until later, during the Fischer job, that someone finally vocalises it. And even then, it’s Ariadne, in a test dream the two of them are in. And she tells him, “It’s just that you’re so clearly you, anyway,” she says, “you’re you when you’re in a woman’s body, and you’re you when you’re in your real body. It doesn’t really make a difference”. It’s perhaps one of the best things anyone has ever said to him.)

*

They go on in this way for almost a year. They do a few jobs together, nothing spectacular. And then they hear wilder rumours, whispers of something called inception. The dream share world is like the world’s largest and most vague grapevine, but from what they can gather, it involves planting an idea, rather than taking one.

They are approached almost immediately by someone wanting them to try it. Yusuf, of course, won’t go in to the field with them, won’t even have anything to do with the project other than supplying the chemicals. But he helps Eames find a team.

Who they try to incept, what they try to plant in his mind, isn’t important. What is important is that it fails, spectacularly. Nothing too dramatic happens. It just doesn’t take. Life goes on as normal, in Mombasa.
Nothing of note happens.

And then, one day, a voice from behind him says, “I see your spelling hasn’t improved.”

*

Eames was never really going to say no. Not to Dom, he couldn’t care less about what Dom wants (it surprises him, how much he still hates him, even after all these years). But to see Arthur again. And it’s utterly pathetic.

So he suggests Yusuf should come with them. He knows, if he’s being an idiot, Yusuf will tell him.

So they go to Paris. And Arthur and he, they work together. And they’ve always been like this, this is how they always interacted, but there’s an edge to it now. And there’s no one to stop them. Dom doesn’t notice, he’s too wrapped up in his own head. Ariadne is new, and she won’t interfere, and she’s too wrapped up with Dom. Eames remembers a couple, from back on the project. They’d been together for years, had even been engaged. And then it ended. Eames doesn’t know what happened, but for a long time afterward, they were awful. They couldn’t quite let go of their relationship, couldn’t quite adjust, and yet they couldn’t get along. Everything had an edge of nastiness to it. And him and Arthur, they’re on that same knife edge, but they can’t get out of it now.

And then they’re in Fischer’s mind, they’re in the taxi, and it’s just like old times. Not that they’ve ever been in this situation specifically, but they can still work together, even after everything. Eames can trust that Arthur will get them out of there, and it’s clear Arthur doesn’t even think twice, just drives, just trusts Eames to have his back. When it comes down to it, they can do this.

And then it’s, “Eames!” and then, louder, “Eames!” and it’s going to be a huge distraction, if Eames keeps analysing everything Arthur does, but he can’t help but think that it’s nice to hear he still cares.

“I’m fine, I’m okay, Fischer’s fine too, unless he gets carsick,” Eames tells him. And Arthur gives him that look he used to give, like stop being so flippant Jamie, for fuck’s sake, and this could be years ago, they could be their young selves again, and then Saito is bleeding, and the moment is gone.

But then they make it to the warehouse, and Dom reveals exactly how crazy he is, and then Eames watches as Arthur storms off, after Dom yells at him. Eames goes after him.

And he knows better than to say anything, because Arthur is clearly not in the mood, and Eames can still tell. So he just watches him, for a while, watches him protect them still/shoot someone other than Dom, which would not be productive. And Eames inner fifteen year old is delighted to see that all is not right between them, because he’d blamed Dom, mostly, for a while. But he keeps that to himself, because Arthur will be able to tell. And then Arthur gives him this look, because he can tell, and Eames can’t resist ribbing him a little back.

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling,” Eames says.

He looks back as he walks away. Arthur meets his eyes, and Eames can’t help but laugh at him, a little. Arthur shakes his head.

And for all he’s said, about waiting here, pulling out, in the end, he’s going to go down with Arthur. So he makes the offer, to forge a blonde he worked on with Yusuf. And then he watches Arthur watching him as he sashays past. It’s all still there.

It’s still there, later, in the hotel room. And they’ve never been good with words, either of them, so Eames just says, “Security’s going to run you down hard,” and hopes Arthur knows that means he worries.

And he overheard Ariadne say something, to Yusuf, and she’s right, they are emotionally stunted, but they can work it out. And the look on Arthur’s face, as he says, “Go to sleep, Mr. Eames”, and then his thumb, rubbing lightly across his wrist, is enough for them. It’s enough to know they’re going to try this again.

*

They succeed, in the end. And it’s awful, it’s the worst and most immoral thing any of them have ever done, but they can all admit they’re high on the power, on the success, except Ariadne, who won’t realise the real world consequences, not yet. If it takes.

Eames waits for Arthur in the baggage claim. And it’s ridiculous, because they can really read people’s minds, but the ability to really know what someone is thinking is still as much of a mystery as ever. But he thinks he’s got this one right.

He has to wait, for a while. He has to watch Arthur watch Dom leave, and for a moment, Eames thinks Arthur might still follow him. But he doesn’t. And it isn’t a good idea, to look like they know each other, but Arthur still walks over, brushes past him. Eames takes the hint, and follows him out.

They go to a small apartment in Silver Lake. And it is an apartment, in that Arthur owns it, or has at least rented it for a long period of time. It’s not just a temporary crash pad.

It has all the marks of Arthur, too. The tiny security camera outside the door, the locks. But it’s beautiful, too. It reminds Eames of something, although he can’t quite put his finger on what.

It takes them a while to get inside. There are the locks, of course, but then there are also several key pads. Arthur lets Eames see the codes.

And then he leads him through the flat. But Eames doesn’t need any help, could do it with his eyes closed, because he knows this flat. He knows what it reminds him of, now. It’s like their old flat. Different, but the layout is similar. Things are in the same places. And it’s like coming home.

Arthur stops at the entrance to the bedroom. The only bedroom. He seems nervous, now. Which is so odd, something the old Arthur might have done, but nothing Eames recognises from this new person.

“I’ve got something for you,” Arthur says.

And he opens the wardrobe. And Eames can’t believe his eyes.

Half the wardrobe consists of Arthur’s clothes, mostly neatly hung suits and the like. The other half is stuffed full of dresses.

Eames walks over to investigate. And they are his dresses, the ones from the Paris house. Not all of them, and none of his other clothes, but a decent selection.

He runs his hands through them, and then he picks out a few. A green one, a red one, and the underwear Arthur got him that Christmas. He brings them over to the bed.

Arthur has been rummaging in the chest of drawers. He pulls out a hardback make-up case, and he looks so hopeful, although he’s trying to hide it.

“I saved them,” Arthur says, “and we could…” he trails off.

Eames drops the dresses on the bed, discards them. Not that he doesn’t want them anymore, just. Maybe later.

“You know we can’t go back,” Eames says.

“Eames,” Arthur says, and then “Jamie.”

Eames grins, and says, “I know something we can do that doesn’t involve any clothing.”

And Eames backs him up against the wall, and Arthur lets him. And then he pushes him down, on their old bed, amongst their old clothes, in their new apartment in a new city with new people. And they are home.



Masterpost

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
ilovetakahana
Jan. 25th, 2011 11:51 am (UTC)
Beautiful work!

I love the whole idea of Eames and make-up and wearing fabulous dresses, of Mal and Ariadne both unknowingly understanding him.

Also I love how you've woven the movies and the details of their past from the canon in, so much so that this really feels like their story, their completed story, Arthur and Eames before and after the job.

Your writing was very spare and gorgeous. Thank you for creating this world!
sirona_gs
Jan. 25th, 2011 03:23 pm (UTC)
This is just a masterpiece. All that detail, so intricately woven, it was magical to just unpin is as I went along. And excellent origins story! And it ties in so neatly with canon that it's practically seamless. Very well done!
eumelia
Jan. 25th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
Best Genderqueer!Eames ever.

Seriously, seriously good.

I'm speechless to describe how I felt reading this origins story. It is epic but so nuanced, just lovely.
r_a_j_ka
Jan. 25th, 2011 05:57 pm (UTC)
One of the best trans story I've ever read. I admire the way you described Eames, his relationships with other women, and Arthur. Awesome fic!
kubis
Jan. 25th, 2011 06:54 pm (UTC)
Wow, the level of details and description of Eames' relationships with other people and with his image of himself/herself was great. Wonderful fic.
firefox1490
Jan. 26th, 2011 06:23 am (UTC)
Gah! That was freaking beautiful! I love it. This has been my happy fic of the day. It was brilliantly written :D
mop_cat
Jan. 27th, 2011 06:53 am (UTC)
Jesus christ, this was so bloody beautiful. ♥♥♥
claudia_nic
Jan. 27th, 2011 05:24 pm (UTC)
This was gorgeous, you did a fantastic job weaving in what we know and what you made up together into a brilliant story with characters that come through so real! BRAVO!
_profiterole_
Jan. 29th, 2011 08:13 pm (UTC)
What a wonderful story, not only the parts about Eames and Arthur, but also Eames' past, wearing dresses and make-up and being a girl with Charlotte.
arabella_hope
Feb. 4th, 2011 04:14 am (UTC)
You most definitely tackled this concept the best. I seriously just hurt for Eames so many times -- & wanted him to just be happy, which is exactly what the second half was to me. Stunning fic, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
soriso
Feb. 5th, 2011 03:06 am (UTC)
wow, it's amazing how you've managed to describe eames so convincingly both as a woman and a man. one of the best and certainly most interesting characterisations i've seen in this fandom. and i'm glad i waited until i was able to read the whole thing in one go, without interrupting myself with boring stuff like... going to school or studying or going to sleep (though it's 4am where i live, i spent almost all night reading it :D), because the continuity here is incredible, it's all so... smooth and well written and great.

bits with putting the make-up on were breathtaking and i hated arthur for leaving eames and going back to states to help cobb, but i loved him for saving at least some of those dresses and they are so, so, so right for each other, arthur and eames. and your mal? she's *the* mal. i adore her.

oh, and their first dance? masterpiece.

thank you so much for this. amazing work.
clair3
Mar. 9th, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC)
that was absolutely brilliant!
pionie
Aug. 20th, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC)
This was a fascinating take on Eames, and a warm and delightful story. I really enjoyed it!
iamladyliberty
Sep. 13th, 2011 02:06 am (UTC)
this was really beautiful.

i think your take on arthur and eames just sits so nicely on my brain and on my heart.

i am reading this many months out of the big bang, and i thought it was important for you to know that people are still reading, and that i found it very powerful.

my best wishes to you. i'd love to read more in this fandom from you, someday.

thank you for writing.
karmic_fic
Oct. 22nd, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC)
Marvelous!
hereticalvision
Nov. 24th, 2011 04:35 pm (UTC)
How does this fic have so few comments?!? it's a work of absolute beauty. Charlotte is so well drawn, the gender aspect is handled very well and the two of them together are just lovely. Absolutely loved it.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )