Word count: 5590
Notes: Eames, before and after. You can tell I wrote this fic because it contains medical metaphors, psychiatry nicked from William Rivers, and references to Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead.
A whole lot of Arthur snuck into it because Arthur is BADASS and I love him, but the story is basically as gen as it can be given that I believe wholeheartedly in the queerness of Eames. (My brain's attitude to this fandom is apparently: shipping? Fuck shipping. Let's get with the worldbuilding.)
I got this one out in a single day, so it's not as polished as it could be, but I desperately want my brain back. I need it! For studying!
If you're wondering what his first name is, well, SO AM I. The fact that I couldn't make one work suggests that it is in fact so terrible that it would require professional extraction for him to own up to it.
Yeah, let's go with that.
The rules of forgery are these:
1) As the name suggests, forgery must always be an act of copying rather than an act of creation. It differs from dream architecture in this regard. Minor aspects of the forged individual may be adjusted or omitted, but it has proven impossible to appear as an individual who does not exist and has not been carefully observed by the forger.
2) Any forgery carried out by the DREAMER therefore consists of a precise memory rather than an original construction, and so puts the DREAMER at severe and immediate risk of attack from the SUBJECT's projections.
3) Forgery should under no circumstances whatsoever be attempted by the SUBJECT of a dream.
"Hold it closer, moron, I can see your hand."
He watches the pinch of Jillian's fingers on the cigarette, the way the shape of her face changes softly around it when she inhales.
"Can I have a puff?"
"You're too young." She gestures with her cards and he quickly angles his own closer to his chest.
"But you're teaching me poker."
"You're never too young to cheat at poker," she says grandly. "That's a life skill."
Perhaps, but Eames isn't very good at it. He gets distracted by the tiny movements of her face, a search for tells that never actually helps him win. He doesn't mind too much; nobody else's sister is teaching them to cheat at cards. Jillian is uniquely full of life skills.
"Jill. Jill, I need Mum to sign this form for a school trip."
Jillian looks up from where she's cutting carrots, badly. "Sign it yourself. It's what I always do."
"I can't --"
She shrugs. "Then ask her."
Eames shifts, foot to foot; glances at the living room. "Jill," he whines.
"Here." She sets down the knife and beckons him closer. "Give us a pen."
Under the swift motion of her fist a letter takes shape, their mother's looped handwriting excusing Jillian from the swimming carnival on the excuse of a doctor's appointment. She signs his form almost as an afterthought.
Jillian returns to her carrots. "The trick is to keep it smooth. Don't go too slowly. Don't worry about being too precise. Give it a go then."
He does, on the back of a shopping list that's been lying on the bench for months. It's a lot easier than cards.
What you need to be a forger are these:
1) A never-ending curiosity in the area of human behaviour and human quirks.
2) An excellent visual memory.
3) Acting ability, naturally.
Jill bullies them both through school and somewhat to his surprise Eames finds himself at university, a bright but lazy theatre student who gambles on anything that moves and wriggles his way into a summer job at a psycho-oneirology clinic with the help of some excellent homemade references.
It's not bad work. He improves the filing system, learns the signatures of all the therapists purely out of habit, and smuggles out some old letters so he can practice duplicating official stamps. The other receptionist is a girl he recognises from his theatre classes, easy to get along with and easily amused; he's reducing her to spasms of laugher with an impression of their improv tutor when the clinic supervisor clears her throat behind them.
"Sorry," says Eames, but she doesn't look angry; her eyes are narrowed in contemplation.
"Can you come in early tomorrow?" she says finally. "I want to try you out on something."
"How much do you know about the dreamwork we do at this clinic?" Dr Fielding asks him the next morning.
"Mostly memory retrieval, isn't it?"
She nods. "Most of it's therapeutic, some of it has legal implications. Before these techniques were developed there were always problems with the questionable authenticity of memories accessed during questioning. Our subconscious might be hiding things from us, but if we can get down there to look, it isn't going to give us anything false."
"The consequences of strenuously repressing traumatic experiences can be very damaging. This kind of therapy, if carried out correctly, can be excellent for those who prove resistant to talk therapy." She clasps her hands in her lap. "Where exactly is this room, the one we're in now?"
"It's --" Eames is quick. He looks around confused for only a few seconds; searches his memory for only a few more. "Lovely décor you've got here," he says. "Did you do it yourself?"
She nods. "Good." Then she gives him the spiel -- dreamer, subject -- and the rules.
"Hold on," Eames says. "If I'm the subject of this dream --"
"You're not," she says. "George is."
"George?" If he thinks hard, Eames can remember another chair, another man reclining next to them and hooked into the drug.
"He's in the next room." She tilts her head towards the door. "But don't worry about him for now. If you can do what I hope you can do, you're not going to be creating the dream, and you're not going to be the subject either. You'll just be along for the ride." Then she looks at him with the same narrow-eyed consideration as before. "I want you to think of someone that you know very well -- how they look, how they act, how they talk. Can you do that?"
He nods, excited already. Fuck the filing system: this is a summer job.
"This is not reality. This is more flexible." A new colour climbs the wall on every side, pale blue paint replacing the beige. "You are more flexible. Keep thinking about that person, because I want you to become them."
It should sound absurd, but it doesn't. Eames closes his eyes and thinks Jillian, Jillian; the person he knows best in the world. He thinks about the way she holds her cigarettes and the way she brushes her hair back five times every minute and her favourite pair of jeans with paint stains down the front.
"That's it," Dr Fielding says, and Eames can feel a fringe brushing his forehead, can feel -- it feels bizarre -- he tries to put the body-awareness aside for now and just hold the mask steady. He opens his eyes.
"So I'm in character -- now what?" he says, and winces. It's a mixture of his own voice and Jill's. Something to work on.
She looks amused. "Now we get you some proper training."
It isn't long before his own dreams stop altogether. He does have one straggler, coming a few months after he thought he'd lost the ability for good, and it confuses the hell out of him because it's too damn dreamlike to be the kind of dream he's now used to. Nothing stays the same for very long, and he keeps catching discongruities in the narrative.
"Well," he says aloud. "This architect is bollocks at realism, aren't they?"
And then he wakes up alone in his own bed, with an itching on his wrist at the site where no tube lies in the vein.
A lot of the patients are military. Eames chases a man not much older than himself, a man with burns all down one arm and wonderful green eyes, through a repetitive forest. The body he's wearing is the man's best friend; Eames hasn't spent enough time with him that the forgery can be better than skin-deep, but this boy hasn't got enough mental energy to be suspicious. There are hardly any projections at all. He's exhausted. Eames is glad, because soldiers' minds can be pretty paranoid and have some unsurprisingly violent defences. He's been killed out of more than one therapy session; the first time it happened he woke up gasping and the tech gave him a knowing, sympathetic smile before shutting off the dreamer's drug.
This is a walk in the park compared to those ones. Almost literally.
"Alan," he calls, and the man ahead gives a whole-body shiver and pauses for a second. "Where are we going?"
Alan hugs his injured arm against himself and starts to jog again.
Probably not this session, but maybe the next, they're going to stumble upon whatever it is that Alan is refusing to remember, even in his waking hours. Eames is not looking forward to it at all, but the moment the subject stops and their own secret is laid out before them -- that's important. That's what he's in here for. Eames knows from experience that it will be in the darkest part of the forest.
This is simple dream architecture, built by the dreamer assigned to Alan's case, who is probably doing his sudoku behind a nearby tree and waiting for the dose to stop. No fiddling with the basic design, and no staying beyond a strict dosage time, only a few minutes in realtime: you do what you can in one session, and then next week you do it again. The clinic only has so much money.
It's frustrating, though, because Eames can see how wonderful this could be, how awesome in the oldest sense of the word, if the people involved had imagination. If they created for the sheer joy of it, and took their time with the details.
He does another degree, this one in psychology. He keeps working part-time at the clinic and when Dr Fielding is offered the directorship of a research unit in Chicago, she invites him to come too.
Eames has a hankering to visit Las Vegas.
"Definitely," he says.
Some of the less pleasant work he does is with children. Mia Vaughan is seven years old and has been waking up screaming from nightmares, recently began wetting her bed, and talks barely at all. She's a tired child with haunted eyes and a tendency to swing between clinging and refusing to be touched, and Eames can tell at once that he's going to hate finding out whatever it is that's keeping her voice locked in her throat.
Another therapist does the legwork of talking to the projections, who aren't very forthcoming either, and Eames studies Clare Vaughan until he feels confident with his ability to inhabit the girl's mother. Not many people can forge first-degree relatives known intimately to the subject, but Eames is one of them.
"Look what we've found."
The basic design for children is kept to a single house, and from the way Mia's subconscious has decorated this bedroom, she's really into pink bows and green polka dots. Her hiding place is a shoebox, kept far under the bed. It's taken two sessions for her to stop yelling blue murder whenever Eames makes a reach for it, but they seem to be getting somewhere now.
"Look," he says again, his accent faintly Texan. He holds out the box in his slim woman's hands. The girl scuttles backwards a couple of steps, hands behind her back, and shakes her head uncertainly. But her eyes are glued to the box.
"Come on, Mia, sweetheart." Eames smiles. Clare has a lovely smile; Eames removes the hint of desperation it usually contains but keeps the gentleness beneath. "Please. We'll open it together. It's very important."
The box contains a stack of drawings. Eames takes one look at the top sheet on the pile and sends Mia to go play with the dollhouse on the other side of the room. He makes himself go through every one, and then he puts everything back in the box and shoves it as far under the bed as he possibly can.
"Alright, Mia?" he says.
Mia looks up from where she's arranging tiny furniture and gives him a complicated look for someone so young. He feels rotten.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. But we have to know these things. It's for the best."
The bed is giving him the creeps now. He goes and sits with Mia and builds little towers with coloured blocks until the drug stops and they wake up.
"No more kids," he tells Dr Fielding the next day, handing her his report.
She sighs and rubs at her forehead, but doesn't plead with him, even though he knows this is the last thing she wants to hear. He appreciates it. "You're one of our best," is all she says.
"I'm sorry," he says.
One year and seven months later a man called Dominic Cobb stops him in the carpark outside the clinic, and offers him a job.
What you need to be an extractor are these:
1) A knack for improvisation.
2) A decent knowledge of safes, vaults and security systems.
3) A true gift for persuasion.
It only takes a few weeks for Eames to realise that Cobb thinks of himself as an architect, and he's a damn good one, but he's a better extractor. He knows the right questions to ask of any projection, he knows how to feel out the labyrinth and second-guess the cycle of shared creation, and he knows almost everything there is to know about the way human beings think about secrets.
An extractor is basically a psycho-oneirologist without the conscience.
"You're very flexible."
"The building side of it is more interesting, I think. Extraction is just what you do with the design."
"Not to worry. I like a bit of flexibility in a man."
Cobb laughs, quiet, almost to himself. "Of course you do."
They're testing one of Cobb's designs, getting to know the basic layout; every so often Cobb frowns and shifts some streets around. Eames is the subject for this run, so the whole thing will look a bit different when they're running it during the job.
"Are we not feeding you enough, Dom?"
"There do seem to be a lot of pizza joints on this street, now that you mention it."
Eames shrugs and pulls his poker chip out; flips it onto his wrist a few times.
"Well, your design is obeying the laws of probability."
"Don't tell me too much." Cobb shoves his hands into his pockets.
"Shall I show you something interesting?"
Cobb raises his eyebrows.
"A subject can't be a forger. I told you that a while back, didn't I?"
He picks an old woman, the grandmother of a previous subject, a woman with a straight spine and white hair and a propensity to wear black gloves edged with fur. He can't remember her name. He can. Irene. He exhales himself and pulls her around him like a warm jacket, feels his eyes dart from place to place and his step slow to accommodate the arthritis in Irene's right knee.
The shift in the dream is immediate.
"Here are the white blood cells from your favourite metaphor," Eames says. From every direction the projections of his own mind are converging, with angry expressions on their faces and a quickening pace. Eames recognises his tenth-grade science teacher among the crowd, mostly because the man's face was permanently to be found in exactly this hostile frown.
"Tricked into attacking the self," says Cobb. "It is interesting. You'd better change back," he adds, as the noise around them rises.
Eames doesn't. He wonders what it would be like to be forced out of a dream by your own mind -- surely, surely there'd be some niggling remnant of the conflict when you woke up.
"For God's sake, man," says Cobb, and shoves him hard in the shoulder. "I know you like your games, Eames, but -- okay. Thanks."
Eames is Eames again, watching the projections melt from attackers to neutral to renewing their purpose in the created world. The circle around them disperses and leaves a quiet, into which Eames can hear the thud of his own heart.
Mal he likes immediately, because she's full of quirks, and quirks are bread and butter to forgers. On the other hand, he likes Cobb because the man's so normal on first glance that he's a challenge. Eames prides himself on being able to forge his friends, and Cobb takes him months to get right.
"Hmm." Mal walks around him, her heels making a fastidious clicking sound on the polished floor. "An improvement on last time, I think. Yes. Very exact."
He makes a stab at the kind of expression Cobb might wear while looking at her, but he knows he hasn't got that exactly, and never will.
"Are you two done?" The real Cobb looks into the room, pauses, and rolls his eyes. "Eames, stop trying to chat up my wife and come outside. We need your expert opinion on the theatre complex."
Eames shakes off the forgery and dons another one on his way outside, so that by the time he joins Cobb and Arthur on the asphalt he has black hair spiked up and bright red at the tips, an eyebrow piercing, and a tendency to whistle Beatles songs.
"And who's that meant to be?" says Arthur.
"My hairdresser," says Eames.
This is better than forging to command, this slow acquisition of people that can be pulled out like an ace from a pack and made to serve a purpose. If he finds someone interesting he learns them and practices them and adds them to his repertoire. You never know what will come in handy. He learns to flirt as women do, by strategic angling of the anatomy, and to carry on conversations as children do, by never accepting the finite nature of question-asking and wonder. He learns acting until it's hardly acting at all.
"One in two."
"Yours is one in six," Eames points out.
"One in six is a lot better than one in two," Arthur returns. "One in two is even chance. I only have to roll the die twice for the odds to reach one in thirty-six; you'd have to flip that thing -- I don't know, ten times -- before the pattern would tell you anything meaningful."
"Ah, you mean: each individual coin, spun individually, is as likely to come down heads as tails, and therefore should cause no surprise --"
"Stoppard, Eames?" Arthur cuts in. "Don't tell me you're showing a faint hint of education."
Eames breaks into a surprised grin. "Why, Arthur, you've been keeping your theatrical knowledge a secret from me. What's next? Pictures from your sordid youth as a Broadway dancer?"
Arthur surprises him again. Not a muscle on his face flickers. He says, "Any dreamer can tell you how it feels to be somewhere and realise that they can't remember the sequence of events that led them there."
"You're no fun this morning, pet," Eames says through a dry mouth. Because he's right. Eames spends his life playing characters in stories that begin in media res just like any play, acting well enough that his co-stars don't realise that they, too, have no purpose and no context outside the current script.
He runs his fingers around the rim of the chip, automatically soothing himself. It's true that a simple heads/tails arrangement hardly makes good odds for a reality check, but even so, Eames only flicks the chip once. Arthur of course uses this as a basis for complaint about his terrible lack of precision. But just as Eames knows exactly how hard one needs to press down on Arthur's myriad triggers, he knows exactly how high and how fast the poker chip will fly when his thumb flicks it. The process is also unique; not everything is about the final result.
What you need to be a point man are these:
1) An anal-retentive obsession for details.
2) That's about it.
All right, perhaps he isn't being entirely fair there.
The thing about Arthur is that he's a decent point man but that's not what makes him good at what he does. He's got something different; out of everyone in the industry that Eames has ever met, Arthur's the one who wears dreams like a second skin. He embraces them, breathes them in, and metabolises them. He follows the rules so exactly that if you’re watching closely you can see them dissolve.
Eames doesn't dream but reality blurs sometimes when he's falling asleep in his own bed, and sometimes when he's waking up. There are so many people within him now, he thinks, that if his subconscious were asked to populate a dream, it might recognise him as foreign and attack him at once. Even if he wasn't forging a thing. All the people whose personas he's ever stolen might appear as projections and reach out their furious hands for him, and he'd die, and maybe he wouldn't kick out. Maybe that's another way you can reach limbo.
He wakes up in a nice hotel in Florence and there's sunlight streaming through a crack in the curtains, but he still gets that awful early-morning dread that rises when you stand up too quickly, and his skin feels so thin it could tear with the slighest pressure.
He goes to the bathroom and splashes his face with water and then looks up at the mirror, even though he knows it won't help. He can always find his true face in mirrors, if he looks hard enough, no matter how many layers deep he goes. It's not a guarantee of anything.
"My dear Rosencrantz," he murmurs.
And after a long pause: "My dear Guildenstern."
He closes his eyes; the dread floods back and for a sickening moment he can't remember his own name.
"Get away from her!" Arthur shouts, and shoots Cobb in the head.
Eames, who's forging the subject's daughter, resists the urge to flutter his eyelashes as Arthur runs to his side. Daniel Joyce looks, stunned, at Cobb's body.
"Well, he's out. He'll stop the drug up there," Arthur says under his breath. "Which means we haven't got much time left down here."
"Then you'd better get to that safe." This time he does flutter them, just a little. "My hero."
"Hilarious," says Arthur tightly, and, "I'm going to check the perimeter!" much louder. He dashes out of the room.
"Stacey!" Joyce moves forward, all fatherly concern. You'd never pick him as someone who -- they suspect -- built his daughter's generous college fund by supplying heroin to a large part of California. "Are you okay?"
Eames lets Stacey's blue eyes fill with a film of tears, and settles in for some touching family time while Arthur's in the study reading through the man's dirty laundry, and Cobb's in the real world waking them up. He's always surprised by the time discrepancy; he's almost out of ways to keep Joyce safely in the room, and is considering the logistics of swooning, before he blinks awake next to Arthur in the dim bedroom of Joyce's house in Madrid.
Cobb's already gone, checking that the street outside is clear for an unwitnessed escape. Mal --
He keeps forgetting that Mal's gone, especially in these moments when he's still adjusting to reality. Keeps listening for her breathless laughter as they wake up.
Focus, focus. Cobb will have pushed a sedative into Joyce as soon as he kicked out, but the dream itself will have collapsed now that Arthur, the dreamer, is out. Making themselves scarce is a priority.
Eames tugs the cannula out of Joyce's arm. "Did you get it?"
"Yes." Arthur rolls his die with one hand, shutting down the infuser with the other. He barely glances at the number and then sweeps it into the pocket of his waistcoat; Eames throws his chip and then does it again, and again, just to annoy Arthur.
"Heads?" Arthur isn't rising to it. The job's gone well and he's in a good mood.
"A weaker man," declaims Eames, "might be moved to re-examine his faith."
Arthur's mouth twitches as he hoists the suitcase. "Let's go."
What you need to be an architect are these:
1) The ability to create and maintain complex visuospatial layouts.
3) A healthy regard -- and disregard -- for the laws of physics.
"You don't really need to know this level of detail," Yusuf says.
"No, it's interesting." Ariadne sits up a little straighter. "Keep going."
Eames loves the way Ariadne makes him remember how it felt to have Cobb open his eyes for the first time to the border between the possible and the impossible. She's veracious, brilliant. She's also as huge a geek for this technical stuff as Yusuf is; the chemist is beaming at her and scribbling on a whiteboard.
"What's important is the position of the head relative to the gravitational field." Yusuf looks around. Eames edges his chair backwards in case he's hoping for a practical demonstration. "Changes in that position shift the angle of the fluid, and thus the cilia, in the semicircular canals, the utricle and the saccule. All the parts that make up the labyrinth of the inner ear."
"The labyrinth," Ariadne echoes, coming alight. In her lap is a battered sketchbook labelled Fischer Job, open at the final draft of a design for a hotel basement.
"A fall delivered in the real world will kick you out of a simple dream, as you know. To kick out of a deep layer --" Four horizontal lines on the whiteboard. Yusuf puts an asterisk next to the second-lowest one. "We redefine the layer above it as 'reality' and create the fall there. Your real sleeping body doesn't tilt at all and yet the same signal is sent within the dreaming mind, enough that it 'wakes you up' --" Bent fingers for quotation marks. "-- to the dream layer where you fell in the first place. Nobody knows exactly why it works. But isn't it brilliant?"
"It is pretty brilliant," she agrees, turning her golden chess piece in her palm. She's barely been under and she's already got the absent tics of a dreamer.
It's all weight, weight, mass and gravity -- the vitally individual weight of a totem; the weight of an argument or the weight of subtle evidence that leads them to an answer; gravity forcing the tiny hairs in your skull to send their signal and wake you up. In their business, weight is everything.
The Fischer job.
As soon as his arse lands on the hotel bed in L.A., Eames calls Jillian in Birmingham and gives her a creatively edited version of the whole debacle. "Best fun I've had in years," he finishes.
"You're mental," she says. "I've always known it. Come and visit us, with your ill-gotten gains. Harry wants you to teach him more card tricks."
"Teach him yourself."
"Corruption of the young is best left to uncles," she says primly.
Ironically enough, Eames feels like he's been awake for days. He falls asleep there on top of the bed covers, fully dressed, still seeing snow-drenched mountains on the inside of his eyelids.
Two months after they all go their separate ways he answers the phone and it's Ariadne, who sounds surprised.
"Cobb told me you'd be hard to reach by phone."
"It's your lucky day, my dear. What can I do for you?"
"We've got a job. Just extraction," she adds hastily. "But it's going to be complicated. We need a forger."
"We? Cobb's not done with his little holiday yet, surely." Cobb, he doesn't add, would simply have turned up on Eames's doorstep and given him an inquiring look.
A conversation takes place some distance from the mouthpiece of the phone. Eames can only make out a few words, but he grins. "Hello there, Arthur," he shouts.
"I thought it would be better if I made the call," Ariadne says. "I'm handing you over now. No violence."
"If I could kick him out of his chair from here, darling, I'd have done it already."
"Charming," says Arthur.
"Glad to hear you missed me," says Eames.
"Are you coming?"
"Are you making it worth my while?"
"That's certainly promising."
A sigh. "We're sending you the details. Be here by Saturday."
Eames laughs into the sound of the dial tone.
What it takes to be a chemist are these:
2) A steady hand under pressure.
3) Cheerful sadism, as far as Eames can tell.
The new extractor, Maddy, was recommended by Cobb, but it's been two days and Arthur is still radiating annoyance that he has to learn someone else's professional style. He and Cobb know each other so well that watching them work is always a pleasure, but in Eames's firm opinion, Arthur's a man who could do with acquiring a bit of flexibility.
"He'll be back soon," Ariadne says with the confidence of the addicted. She and Arthur share a smile. "He gave up his share, and he's got to earn a living somehow."
Not that any of them need an immediate income, after the last job -- especially not Yusuf, whose Rolex Eames is going to lift if he keeps flashing it at them -- but here they are anyway. Eames keeps catching himself listening out for Saito's dry comments, sometimes even looking for Robert; now there was a face that was fun to have around.
But Maddy seems sharp. If Eames was forging her the first thing he'd concentrate on would be her clothing -- starting at her purple fishnets and extrapolating predictably from there -- and the second would be her manner of speaking. She leaves polite, friendly pauses and somehow you have the urge to fill them up with personal information. He'd place her as a natural extractor even if he met her on the street.
"How much longer is this going to take?"
It's close to nine in the evening; Yusuf, Maddy and Arthur are trying out a new compound, or maybe a new concentration of an old compound, or something. Yusuf is checking the readout and scribbling like mad, and Arthur is lying there looking like a cool prissy bastard even while asleep, which is quite a feat. Cobb asleep always looked drained, wistful, and Ariadne looks like a painting: Elaine on the boat, Ophelia in the river. Maddy looks on the verge of opening her mouth and mumbling something. Eames has no idea what he looks like sprawled out on the chair, and hopes nobody takes it into their head to tell him.
Yusuf looks up. "It's wearing off, they'll be out any time now."
Ariadne's watching a movie on her portable player. Eames leans over her shoulder and says, loudly, "You're not winning any marks for originality there, pet."
She tugs her headphones down but doesn't stop the film. "Hey, I'm taking my inspiration where I can get it," she says. "Every maze needs a few interesting monsters."
Eames rests his arms on the top of the couch and together they watch the silent screen as David Bowie walks down, and up, a paradoxical staircase.
"Amateur," says Arthur from behind them; if Eames were forging Arthur, that tone of voice would come with a smile. He's tempted to turn around and see if he's right, but he doesn't.
"We have to write off the main foyer. Give us another in."
Maddy and Arthur are having a fast technical discussion over the open comms about whether or not she has enough time to alter the architecture, and if so, what she should be doing.
"But the subject's subconscious --" she protests.
"It's a bit late for that," Arthur says. "If it'll get us into that school faster, do it."
"Give me ten minutes and then go for the west fire exit," Maddy says. "You'll have to blow the lock. I'll meet you at the third level stairwell."
"Ten minutes." Arthur takes his finger off the comm and tugs at his shirt collar, the starch of which is wilting in the heat. "If I have any body water left by that point."
"Didn't bring a pack of cards to pass the time?"
"As if I'd play cards against you," Arthur says absently. He peers around the corner again. "You cheat."
"I do," Eames agrees. Fuck, it's hot, and they're not even hiding on the side of the building that's currently being pummelled by direct sunlight. He hoists his gun and looks at it speculatively, thinking about buggering off to hang out with Ariadne on the layer above, which is at least air-conditioned, but --
"Don't even think about it." Arthur's hand comes down on his wrist faster than should be possible, gives it an insultingly gentle shake, and then lets go. "Maddy needs you around to provide distractions when we're inside."
"Oh, well." He leans his head back against the wall and thinks wistfully of the snow fortress. "That is my speciality."
Arthur makes a soft noise that doesn't sound complimentary; Eames extends his middle finger without opening his eyes, and smirks while he does it, then digs in his pocket and spins the poker chip down the backs of his fingers, thumb to little finger and back again.
"Do you always have to show off?"
That's rich coming from someone who just trapped two projections on the underside of a staircase while shooting an escape hole through a window, and Eames hopes that his raised eyebrows convey exactly that. "Whatever you say, Mister Mobius. Back to basics, then."
The chip flies high and Eames looks straight ahead at Arthur's eyes following it, hungry for pattern.
"Even chance," Eames says. "Call it."