Spoilers/Warnings: Mentions of character death consistent with the plot of the film. Other than that, no!
Summary: “Pictures of Dom tonight, Eames,” Yusuf replies from the doorway, “or I swear to you, I will point out to Arthur that he has a stalker with no shame and a thousand dollar camera.” From celebutaunt's prompt at the kink meme, "Cobb is the presidential candidate, Ariadne is his running mate, Yusuf is campaign manager, Saito is the sponsor, and Eames is the campaign photographer who spends way too much time taking picture of Cobb's speechwriter, Arthur."
Disclaimer: Inception is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it. Nor, obviously, is the title to this story.
Notes: The title is a quote from The West Wing and is, as mentioned, not mine. Now with bonus commentary track, here!
“You are completely hopeless,” Yusuf declares, throwing his hands into the air. “I hope you know that there’s only one reason you still have a job, and it is that we are old, old friends.”
“No,” Eames says, “the reason I still have a job is that I am completely brilliant at what I do and we both know it. What’s the problem?”
Yusuf gets up from the couch and drops a stack of photographs onto the bed where Eames is sprawled on his stomach, chin propped on his hands, reading the New York Times.
“The problem,” he says, “is that your job is to take photographs of the candidate.”
Eames glances down his nose at the pile of glossy four-by-sixes and then back at the Paul Krugman column he’s reading.
“Et voila. Photographs. I think you may have to explain the problem again, Yusuf, I’m not quite following you.”
“The candidate, Eames. The candidate, whose name is Dominic Cobb. He’s the junior senator from California. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? He’s been making some news lately, earned himself a few headlines--”
“You’re hilarious,” Eames says without glancing up from his newspaper.
“This,” Yusuf says, slapping a photograph right down into the middle of a lethally boring paragraph about derivatives, “is not Dominic Cobb.”
“No,” Eames agrees, “it is not. I’m glad we’ve got this established.”
“Have we got it established? Because to be honest, I’ve always found your infatuation with Arthur adorable, in an emotionally stunted sort of way, but I do need one or two pictures of the Democratic nominee for president in the middle of all of this.”
“Even if I were infatuated with Arthur-- a point which I am in no way conceding-- it can’t be all that bad, can it?”
The one eyebrow Yusuf raises is more than enough to convey, you are genuinely more hopeless than I’d thought, you poor bastard, and so Eames scrambles into a sitting position and scoops up the photographs.
“Hmm,” he says. Here’s Arthur scribbling last-minute notes into the margin of Cobb’s speech on the environment from last Tuesday, ink staining his fingers. Here’s Arthur with one hand on his hip, talking to Ariadne about her convention appearance. Here’s Arthur at three o’clock in the morning, his hair falling into his eyes as he tries to stay awake long enough to prep for his CNN interview at ten. Here’s Arthur laughing into his carton of takeout Chinese (Eames remembers that; he’d just made a dirty joke about chopsticks).
“People adore behind the scenes stuff,” he offers.
“One or two pictures of the actual scenes would be very much appreciated,” Yusuf replies. “Also, perhaps if you stopped undressing Arthur through a viewfinder and got around to doing it with your hands you could do your job properly.”
“No thank you,” Eames says. “Too many buttons.”
Yusuf snorts. “I somehow doubt you would let them stop you.”
“You are disgusting and I am offended by your insinuations,” Eames declares in his best affronted tone. “Now get out of my hotel room before I have you thrown out.”
“I am going because I have to change for dinner, not because you told me to,” Yusuf says.
“Are you five?” Eames says.
“Pictures of Dom tonight, Eames,” Yusuf replies from the doorway. “Pictures of the man who is actually running for president or I swear to you, I will point out to Arthur that he has a stalker with no shame and a thousand dollar camera.”
“This may not be the best way to convince everyone that Dom’s a man of the people,” Eames says an hour and a half later.
“Dom’s not a man of the people,” Arthur replies, shrugging. “And anyway, it’s only dinner.”
Eames sighs and glances around the Samuel Halpert Room of the Ritz-Carlton.
“It’s not that I’m complaining about eating with what may be actual gold silverware,” he says, “it’s just that this isn’t going to convince anyone that the Democratic presidential nominee cares about their taxes.”
Arthur rolls his eyes.
“Dominic Cobb was born in Costa Mesa, California, to parents who wished Nixon wasn’t so damn liberal and who never forgave Reagan for comparing unfavorably to Margaret Thatcher,” Arthur says. “All of this, combined with the fact that he is terrible at beach volleyball, made him determined to get away from home as soon as he could, which he did by becoming a Columbia University freshman at the age of seventeen. He double majored in Political Science and Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures and then, because he has never in his life been tired of going to school, he went on to Harvard and got his Ph.D. in Economics. Having spent an impressively high percentage of his life in Ivy League lecture halls, he has never held a gun, nor does he understand which end is up on a fishing pole. If you sat him down to watch Monday Night Football, he would try to use it as a metaphor for the world market in silver alloy. He enjoys going to the theater, and last year he made a donation in Mal’s name to the New York Metropolitan Opera. It’s true that he loves baseball, but he’s also determined to create a statistical model which will predict the winner of the World Series, and honest-to-god, Eames, that is what he does with his spare time, which is essentially none existent. And, to top it all off, he had never been to Iowa until last year’s primaries. All of which does not change the fact that not only does he care about people’s taxes, he actually knows how to lower the damn things without bankrupting the entire country.”
“I think I’m in love with you,” Eames says. “Also, this steak is amazing.”
“It is very good steak,” Arthur says.
“What, no sweeping declarations, no pledges to cherish me for all eternity?” Eames demands.
“I’m afraid not,” Arthur says. “But come on, you got one out of two. I admitted you were right about the steak.”
“You win some, you lose some,” Eames agrees cheerfully, and slides his camera out of its bag to snap a picture of Dom making a point, his fork coming down on the table emphatically. Saito is listening, his face a portrait of intense concentration which also seems to somehow telegraph, “I’m so rich that were I to dive into my money, Scrooge McDuck style, I’d end up doing laps in an Olympic sized swimming pool.” Eames isn’t sure how Saito does this, but it’s a genuinely impressive skill. Perhaps once you reached a certain tax bracket you were given classes.
“It’s going well, don’t you think?” Ariadne murmurs into Eames’ ear.
She’s seated on his right, her hair swept up into an elegant bun, probably in a ploy to make herself look older than her thirty-five years. I always used to think I’d be ancient when I turned thirty, she’d confided to Eames once as they watched Cobb shaking hands in a Des Moines diner, and now everyone’s desperate to make me look at least forty-five. I fucking hate politics.
“Swimmingly,” Eames replies.
“I swear, I’m going to make a list of words you can only get away with using if you’ve got a British accent,” Ariadne says. “And ‘swimmingly’ is going to be the first thing on it.”
“Promise you’ll put ‘posh’ on it, too. I can’t stand it when Americans say ‘posh,’ you haven’t got the history for it,” Eames says. “You know I adore you, and your country, but really. Keep your flat vowels away from the Queen’s English.”
Ariadne grins and spends the rest of dinner muttering ‘queue’ and ‘flat’ and ‘lift’ at him with what he thinks is supposed to be a Southern twang. As a result, he gets quite a few pictures of the vice-presidential candidate making distinctly undignified faces, and only one or two of Dom.
Yusuf’s probably going to turn a few interesting colors when he sees the film, but it’s worth it when Eames thinks about plastering the one where Ariadne has her nose scrunched up and her eyes bugged out all over the walls of campaign headquarters. Very, very worth it.
“If it weren’t for Arthur, would I be your favorite?” Ariadne asks as they make their way toward the elevator. She’s a bit tipsy, Eames can tell, and he considers ignoring the question in hopes that it will wander off. No such luck.
“I mean, I realize he is. Your favorite, that is. It’s really no contest. But come on, I take second, right?”
“Who says Arthur’s my favorite?” He tries, but his heart’s not really in it. Or too much of his heart is in it. Anyway, something’s wrong with his heart, he’s pretty sure.
“Eames,” Ariadne says, pausing just outside her door to look him in the eye, “the entire fucking universe is aware that you want to be sleeping with Arthur. Okay? You have the hots for the hottest speechwriter in the world of politics. The discussion of split infinitives probably turns you on now. It’s okay. People understand. Did you know the campaign gets anywhere from fifty to one hundred letters a week drooling about how Arthur looks in his suits?”
Eames has a sudden urge to start a bonfire. Perhaps there are some fan letters lying about that would make good kindling.
“Of course there are letters,” Eames says resignedly. “He looks damn good in the suits.”
“Yes,” Ariadne agrees solemnly, “he really, really does.”
“Does everybody like him better than me?” Dom demands the next day as he shrugs into his suit jacket, shuffling through his notes one last time.
“Yes,” Yusuf says simply, and then, “Arthur, you cannot be better dressed than the candidate. We’ve talked about this.”
Eames glances up to note Arthur’s slicked back hair, his sharply creased trousers, his perfectly crisp, gray tie. He looks atrociously lovely. Eames, after a moment’s unabashed staring, goes back to fiddling with his camera lens.
“Why?” Dom asks, sounding more genuinely curious than anything else. Eames snaps a photograph of him squinting at himself in the mirror, tugging at the sleeves of his jacket. Dom can never seem to look quite presidential; actually, he tends to look like he’s aimed for professorial and fallen short. Yusuf calls it a liability. Ariadne calls it endearing.
“Because,” Yusuf says, “no one has to decide whether or not they want to vote for Arthur. You’re a politician. Everyone is required to hate you. I believe it's in the Constitution.”
“Everyone can’t hate me,” Cobb says, bemused. “Some of them have to vote for me.”
“They can vote for you and still hate you,” Eames points out cheerfully. “Why it happens all the time! Doesn’t it Arthur dearest?”
“I’m not paying attention to any of you,” Arthur says, “because none of you-- not a single one of you-- is as interesting as this semi-colon.”
“Aw. You like us, you really like us,” Ariadne says, and grins, and sweeps fluidly out of the room in a way Eames has helped her practice so many times he’s lost count. He hears her voice rise over the thundering crowd, hears her tell Northern Virginia that they had better be ready to hear a speech that is going to change their lives. Judging by the noise the make, they are more than ready.
“Arthur,” Dom says. It’s not a warning, exactly, nor is it a question. It’s really just Arthur’s name. But Eames glances up again anyway.
“Here,” Arthur says, shoving the speech into Dom’s hands. “It’s done, okay? It’s done. Pay attention to that fucking semi-colon, it is exactly where it needs to be.”
“Some day you won’t finish in time,” Eames says quietly as he captures Dom silhouetted in the doorway, stepping into everything Northern Virginia expects of him.
“Such sacrilege," Arthur says dryly. "I’ll always finish in time."
Which is probably true, Eames thinks, quite annoyed. Arthur will probably never make a mistake in his entire life. He will probably never retire, either, and he is certainly too stubborn to die. He will probably have android body parts implanted to replace his own so that he can go on living, go on writing, his metallic fingers clacking away at increasingly advanced keyboards, fussing about misplaced commas and passive tense and the misuse of repetition as a rhetorical device.
“When you are a robot,” Eames says, “and are approached by-- oh, I don’t know, let’s say a really evil microwave-- with a rudimentary outline of the machines’ plans to take over the world, promise that after you have risen up to become their great and terrible and incredibly efficient leader, that you’ll tell them not to kill me.”
“Is it possible that you’re just drunk all the time?” Arthur asks.
“It’s certainly possible,” Eames says, “but it isn’t actually true.”
“I won’t let the microwaves get you,” Arthur promises. “I’ll probably want to kill you myself, anyway.”
“Good point,” Eames says, and slips out onto the stage to take a few shots of Dom’s hands gripping the podium.
They’d met when Yusuf had said, “Ah, Arthur. This is Eames. He’s going to be our campaign photographer.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Arthur had said distractedly, his nose so close to the paper he was scribbling away at that it was probably absorbing ink.
“Likewise,” Eames had said, amused.
That had been it.
Eames feels a sort of amicable apathy toward Arthur after that, has filed him away neatly in his head (hard worker, clearly in love with his job; dresses well; does not give a shit who I am). Then, a week later, Dom buries his head in his hands five minutes before a New Hampshire town hall meeting and says, “Fuck, I can’t say this. Why can’t I say this?” Arthur gently slides the speech out from under Dom’s despairing elbows and goes to work.
Four and a half minutes later Arthur is sliding the speech back to Dom.
“It was the part about jobs. I changed the order of ‘farmers’ and ‘teachers.’ You’ll be fine,” he says.
The next day, NBC plays footage from the speech every two seconds, as does CNN. Everywhere Eames goes, he is faced with Dom slamming his hand onto the podium, his eyes narrowed, as he shouts about the importance of farmers and teachers, about the work in this country which is overlooked or undervalued or simply ignored. It sounds right in Dom’s voice, and Eames feels a rush at the knowledge that only a few people in the world know how close it was to sounding wrong, and that he is one of them.
“You swapped the order of ‘farmers’ and ‘teachers,’” Eames says the next morning, ambushing Arthur in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn. “It was supposed to be ‘teachers and farmers,’ and you made it ‘farmers and teachers.’”
“Yes,” Arthur says, his fingers desperately curled around a styrofoam cup full of coffee. Eames finds his eyes darting to them as if they hold the answers.
“He would have sounded terrible saying ‘teachers and farmers,’” Eames says.
“I know,” Arthur says. “That’s why I changed it.”
“I have a theory,” Eames says.
“Mm?” Arthur says, taking a quick gulp of coffee.
“You’ve sold your soul to the devil,” Eames says.
“Ah, so you’ve heard about my skills with a fiddle,” Arthur says. Eames snaps a picture of him, bleary-eyed and so damn talented, standing in a middle-of-nowhere parking lot at four in the morning, drinking disgusting, day-old instant coffee and from then on, he can’t seem to stop.
Arthur is an alumnus of the University of Connecticut, with a B.A. in Journalism and a minor in Cultural and Historical Anthropology. He saw school as a means to an end, more than anything else, and the only real problem was that once he graduated he realized he had no idea what the end ought to be. Annoyed with himself for being so poorly planned, he moved to New York. He spent somewhere between three weeks and six months working at a Starbucks and being bored out of his mind as a hobby, and then met Mal.
Most of this, Eames decided based on the one quote Arthur had (grudgingly) given to The Los Angeles Times when they wanted to write a feature about him: “I got my degree at the University of Connecticut and then moved to New York. That’s where I met Dom.”
Eames spends endless plane flights, early on in the primary campaign, trying to gather up bits and pieces. He watches the way Arthur turns the pages of whatever shitty airport novel he’d bought before takeoff as if that will somehow make everything clear.
(It doesn’t work. Arthur just spends a lot of time glaring at him. On one particularly memorable occasion, he is so distracted by the need to stare murderously at Eames that he ends up with a paper cut and bleeds all over page 74 of a sordid Wild West love story of some variety. Eames fights not to laugh, cannot manage it, and sprays Diet Coke out of his nose. Then, in a conciliatory gesture, he snatches the book from Arthur and reads bits of it aloud. No one seems to appreciate it, except that Arthur, perhaps light-headed from the blood loss, tips him a sly smile just as Eames is declaiming about the way Jackson moves like an untamed stallion through the wilds of the high desert. So maybe it all does work, actually.)
“Alright,” Yusuf had said once as they wound their way through the Appalachian Mountains, “which do you want to do: pretend to hate ballet, or pretend to love coal mining?”
Cobb laughed, and Yusuf said with a sigh, “I am glad you still think that is a joke. It means the campaign has not yet consumed your soul.”
“Mm, soul,” Ariadne said. “I like it for breakfast, close to burnt-- you know, so it gets really crispy?”
“Absolutely. There’s no other way to eat it,” Eames said, and then, to Yusuf, “Didn’t your mother ever tell you your face would stick that way?”
“No,” Yusuf said, his frown relentless, “because my mother was not a manipulative buffoon.”
“What are you implying about my mother?” Eames asked almost lazily, digging through his camera bag for a better lens.
“Nothing,” Yusuf said, deflating. “Your mother is a lovely woman.”
“Yes she is,” Eames said.
“You’ve met his mother?” Arthur asked, sounding amused. Yusuf nodded distractedly, back to pouring over polling numbers from Lord-knows-where-- at that point, no one in the car would have beeen surprised if Pluto was the next battleground state.
“He has indeed,” Eames said. When he glanced over Arthur was actually looking up from his notebook, and Eames felt suddenly honor bound to make the momentary lapse in work ethic worth the time.
“My mother is on a mission, Arthur: feed the world,” Eames said. “She is doing this one person at a time, of course, because otherwise it would be quite overwhelming. Anyone I mention to her, even in passing, has to come home for dinner. She is a woman of singular purpose, and that purpose is to ensure that every human being on this planet compliments her Duck a l’Orange.”
Arthur laughed, and Eames had his camera up before he could even think about it. It’s the laugh lines more than anything else, he thought dazedly as he heard the shutter click.
When he lowered the camera again Arthur was still looking at him, a funny little smile on his face, questioning.
“To be fair,” Eames had said, feeling entirely too caught out, “the compliments are always deserved.”
So that was late July, a month before the convention. And that, of course, was when Eames realized he was in love. It felt oddly like having the flu.
The last few weeks of July were awful, was the thing. Everyone knew they were going to get the nomination, but everyone was also certain, deep down in their bones, that they were going to lose; every two seconds they seemed to come up against another hurdle they absolutely could not afford to fuck up.
They hadn’t announced Ariadne yet, but Dom had insisted she travel with them so that they could get to know each other, which was an excruciatingly Dom-like thing to do in that it showed next to no political savvy and great deal too much personal sense. Yusuf spent his days and nights trying to keep speculation rife, and coming up with increasingly elaborate plans to rush Ariadne past the press at each and every event. Ariadne spent her days alternatively sulking and offering up fresh and thrilling ideas regarding the future of the country, which meant that no one could decide whether or not they liked her (except for Yusuf who, in between shoving her behind coat racks and reminding her to smile just a bit less, appeared to have taken to her spectacularly well).
And, of course, there was Robert Fischer.
“The worst part about it is that he’s so nice,” Ariadne said miserably one evening as they all took over Dom’s hotel room, curling into chairs and sprawling across the rug.
“His campaign bloody well isn’t,” Yusuf said sulkily from his chair, scooting back so that he could rest his feet on the desk.
Everyone made “hmm”-ing sounds of agreement. Someone who sounded suspiciously like Arthur compared Peter Browning unfavorably to the backside of a toad.
“It’s a negative ad,” Dom said into the eventual silence. “It isn’t as if he’s committed murder. In fact, he hasn’t even committed a misdemeanor. It’s well within his rights to accuse me of killing my wife.”
“Right,” Arthur said slowly. “What you don’t seem to be grasping, here, is that it’s also despicable, not to mention that it shows all the political flair of pond scum.”
(The ad was the work of pond scum, indisputably. It had everything: the ominous music; the footage of Mal, smiling and laughing on Dom's arm; pictures of the car, one side practically sheared off (Eames had no fucking clue how the Fischer campaign had got hold of it, but it was poisonous); and then headline after headline, most of them from the tabloids, full of the sickly sweet speculation that was so irrationally damning to a political candidacy. It was simultaneously one of the most impressive pieces of strategy Eames had ever seen and a perfectly good reason for moving to the Great White North and never speaking to another living soul again.
When Eames had relayed all of this to Arthur in a half-drunk bit of philosophizing, Arthur had raised an eyebrow, loosened his tie, and said, "It's politics, Mr. Eames."
It was all very depressing.)
“It’s true,” Yusuf said to Cobb, careful. “Accusing you of being responsible for Mal’s death is insensitive, to say the least.”
“I’m not making the speech,” Dom said immediately, and Yusuf backed down without a fight, his palms upturned in surrender.
This is how, in the same month that Eames realizes he is in love with Arthur and almost throws up his campaign dinner of fried chicken and M&Ms, he also learns about the speech.
The speech isn’t the speech, really, it’s The Speech. Every time it comes up Cobb’s entire face sort of swallows itself in a way that should be Muppet-lookalike levels of funny but which is painful instead, and Arthur leaves the room. Yusuf just sighs, pushes his glasses up his nose if he’s wearing them, and runs his fingers through his hair if he’s not.
When Eames goes to ask about it he considers opening with a joke (something awful, something along the lines of, is it about his secret love affair with a Teletubby, then?), but decides against it because it turns out he really isn’t that much of an asshole.
“What is it?” He asks instead, after he has wandered into Yusuf’s hotel room unannounced.
“What’s what?” Yusuf says, lowering the volume on NBC’s Charleston affiliate.
“Does this sound like Abbot and Costello to anyone else?” Eames inquires of the empty room.
“Eames,” Yusuf says with an excellent imitation of patience, “are you here to be useful in some way, or should I just scold you out of the room now?”
“As equal as I’m sure you would be to that task, please don’t,” Eames says. “The speech. What’s the speech?”
“What speech?” Yusuf says, but he isn’t even trying.
“You aren’t even trying,” Eames says, and Yusuf has the temerity to roll his eyes.
“The speech is about Mal,” he says. “What more do you need to know?”
This is an excellent question, really. Mal is a brick wall, of sorts-- when she is the answer, you stop asking. But Eames has never had a healthy relationship with physics, and brick walls have never deterred him quite the way that they should.
“What about her?”
“I don’t know, exactly,” Yusuf says. “All I know is that when Arthur first told me Dom was going to run, I told him he had to have something prepared about Mal. Everyone knows the entire story, after all. I told him it was fundamental that Dom be prepared to put everything in his own words. So Arthur wrote a speech.”
No, he wrote The Speech, Eames corrects him mentally, and sets off in search of Arthur.
“I want to read it,” Eames announces when he finds Arthur sitting on the roof.
“No,” Arthur says.
There is a momentary pause.
“You’re on the roof,” Eames says.
“Yes,” Arthur agrees, “I am.”
“Alright,” Eames says companionably, and settles down onto the cold concrete beside him. If the sun was setting this would all perfect, in a rather disgusting way, but it’s just twilight instead, gray and chilly.
“It’s cold,” Arthur says.
“It’s chilly,” Eames says.
“Are we going to argue over temperature gradations now?” Arthur inquires, sounding like he wouldn’t particularly mind.
“If you like,” Eames says. He can feel himself smiling.
Instead of saying anything about wind chill, Arthur says, “Dom’s going to get the nomination.”
“Probably,” Eames says, because that would just be a stupid thing to argue about.
“He’s going to have to talk about her eventually,” Arthur says.
Eames makes a sort of hum of agreement. Arthur sighs.
“I’m not even sure if it’s any good,” he says. He means The Speech, of course, and Eames wants to read it so badly he can feel it in his rapidly numbing fingertips.
“Of course it is,” Eames says. “Everything you write is good, everything you write is fucking brilliant.”
“You didn’t know Mal,” Arthur says softly. “You didn’t-- I’m not sure fucking brilliant is really good enough. And the two of them together-- I don’t know what would be good enough.”
Eames is surprised, once again. For a man who is so fastidious about grammar, Arthur’s capacity to surprise has always been, well. Surprising.
“What was she like?” Eames asks.
“She was lovely,” Arthur says.
“I wish I’d met her,” Eames says.
They stay on the roof longer than is reasonable for two expert political operatives, and then when too long shifts into where-in-God’s-name-have-you-been long they get up and go inside. Eames doesn’t hear about The Speech again for a long time.
The convention itself goes off without a hitch. For three days, everyone from the campaign walks around a bit dazed, astonished by their own charmed lives. Ariadne’s speech is a rousing success, and every pundit in the country immediately gloms on to the “smart, savvy, independent woman” story line, which is rather patronizing but also an excellent way to earn votes. Cobb manages to leave the tax code alone for an hour and forty-five minutes of the two total hours he spends speaking, which everyone counts as a win. Yusuf drinks a bracingly unhealthy amount of champagne on the first night, proposes toasts to everyone he has ever met, one-by-one, and spends the next two days telling everyone within earshot that he has always known Dom is something special. Even Arthur seems to enjoy himself, and makes one more appearance than is strictly required of him, which is nigh on astounding. Eames relishes every minute of the convention, of course, since the entire event requires Arthur to be in exquisitely tailored suits, and to smile more than twice a day.
It is the eye of the storm, of course, a bizarrely calm oasis in the midst of the riot that is American politics. But everyone honest to God enjoys themselves, which is a good thing, since within a week everything has gone spectacularly and horribly wrong.
“Oh God, why don’t we just install a fucking dictatorship already,” Arthur demands in the middle of August as the days limp feebly past. The thermometer seems to be the only thing in Florida with any energy, leaping upward without any regard whatsoever for the laziness this kind of humidity ought to engender.
“That would require organizing a coup,” Dom points out from where he is slumping against his headboard, hair drooping into his eyes. “It’s not even close to worth the effort.”
“I’m trying to think of something encouraging and energetic to say,” he explains to the room at large, “but I’m failing.”
Eames cannot seem to stop staring at Arthur’s wrists. They are sharp and slender and the crisp white cuffs of his shirt settle onto them beautifully. So Eames is staring.
This state of affairs would probably have gone on indefinitely if Ariadne had not burst into the room at that precise moment and said, “Oh my fucking God, you people are so useless, hello, get on the internet, what are you even doing.”
Eames pauses for a beat to wonder when he grew fond enough of this woman to let that slide without comment, and then pulls out his phone and does as instructed. Yusuf and Arthur are doing the same thing, but Arthur must be a few keystrokes ahead of them both because he is the first to let loose a string of admirably imaginative invective.
“...What?” Dom says after a minute, pushing himself upright.
“I’m going to kill him,” Arthur announces in a rather concerning voice. “I’m going to kill him for being an unprofessional idiot, and then I’m going to resurrect him and kill him again, for fun.”
Ariadne is still standing in the doorway looking a bit like chaos incarnate and hardly at all like a vice-presidential candidate, and Arthur is turning the air blue in a genuinely lethal tone, and Yusuf is drawing a very deep, very slow breath in through his nose, and this is when, for Eames, Google finally provides. The headline is blaring something about elitism and irrelevancy, but it’s one paragraph in particular, perhaps halfway down the first page, which stands out.
“No, no, you’ve got it all wrong,” Nash told me conversationally, leaning back in his chair, “it’s not that Dom isn’t passionate, it’s just that he’s passionate about stuff nobody gives a shit about.
“Jesus Christ,” Eames says, “I thought we had all learned our lessons about being conversational with reporters from Rolling Stone?”
Arthur lets out a puff of air that was probably laughter in a former life.
“Did you get to the part about being ‘withdrawn and elusive’ yet?” Ariadne asks, sinking onto the couch. Yusuf makes a sound like someone has stabbed him in the foot.
“It’s not like we didn’t know that was the prevailing opinion,” Dom points out. He honestly looks the least concerned out of everyone present.
“Yes, well, it’s not a prevailing opinion we’re particularly fond of,” Yusuf says. Dom shrugs. Arthur is frowning.
“You can’t tell me you’re fine with this,” Ariadne says. “Really? You haven’t even read it, and you’re fine with it. How about the part where they call you cold and unemotional, you’re fine with that? And the paragraph where they discuss what they’ve termed your ‘issues with repression,’ that’s a good one.”
Eames can, to be honest, sort of see where ‘cold and unemotional’ might have come from, because at the moment Dom’s face is nearly as expressive as a brick wall.
“Ariadne,” Arthur warns, but she pays him exactly no attention.
“What I think you’ll really enjoy is the page and a half they spend talking about Mal, and your children, especially the bit where they suggest that you’re ignoring your kids in favor of your ‘thirst for power,’ that’s really enjoyable--”
“That’s enough,” Dom says. He doesn’t raise his voice, really, but his eyes certainly convey volume.
Ariadne freezes, looking guilty. She probably ought to, but Eames feels sorry for her anyway. She’s probably given up her chance at reelection to be a part of this campaign, and it looks to her-- and to Eames, as well-- as if Dom is willing to open his hands and let it all go. He isn’t even trying to hold on any longer.
The silence is, undeniably, one into which no one has any idea what to say, so perhaps it is lucky for all of them that Dom gets up and walks out of his own hotel room.
“Oh fucking fucking fuck,” Arthur says, which is disappointingly uninventive, and then he springs up and follows him.
“Well,” Yusuf says, the hands he has put over his face muffling his voice somewhat, “this is going well, isn’t it?”
“You,” he says, pointing at Yusuf, “figure out a brilliant, sly, and masterful way of fixing this. And you, darling, come with me. It’s disgustingly hot. We’re going to get ice cream.”
Ariadne stares at him for a minute, and then says, “Yes please,” and uses his offered hand to pull herself to her feet.
“My personal policy,” Eames informs her as they make their way to the elevator, “is as follows: when things go horribly wrong, go elsewhere.”
“I like it,” Ariadne says wearily, and jabs the button for the lobby.
When they return to the hotel Ariadne excuses herself and heads for her own room with a look in her eyes that communicates impressively precisely that she has absolutely no interest in seeing Dom again unless he has developed some form of amnesia. Eames wanders down the hall to Yusuf’s door and knocks. A noise emerges from within which might be generously interpreted to mean, “Come in,” and so Eames does.
“Been brilliant yet?” He inquires.
“I’m always brilliant,” Yusuf says. He is slumped on the sofa, his head dangling over the back.
“So that’s a no, is it?” Eames asks. Yusuf flips him off.
“And eloquent and, admittedly, appropriate response,” Eames says, and joins him on the couch.
They sit there in silence for a few minutes as the Florida heat seeps in through the walls. Eames can hear the air conditioner humming, and yet somehow the outside is managing to get in.
“I’m going to make the speech,” Dom’s voice says suddenly. Yusuf drags his head around so suddenly that Eames gets sympathetic whiplash, and himself turns around with considerably more care.
Dom walks out of the room as suddenly as he had appeared, leaving behind a weary looking Arthur, who takes a few steps forward to lean against the arm of the couch.
“What in God’s name did you say to him?” Yusuf asks.
“I told him that he had to fight back, that people didn’t win presidential races by watching everyone else campaign,” Arthur says. “I told him he was acting like a four-year-old who’s just had his teddy bear taken away. And when that didn’t work, I told him Mal would’ve been ashamed to be married to a man who didn’t have the balls to talk about his own dead wife.”
Yusuf stares at Arthur. Eames stares at Arthur. The bland hotel wallpaper, shocked out of its usual state of blaring disinterest, stares at Arthur.
“No you didn’t. Did you? Oh my God, you did. You absolutely fucking did, didn’t you? You did,” Yusuf says.
“Jesus,” Eames says, “have you developed a death wish?”
“I’m clearly not dead,” Arthur says dryly. “Nor am I here to listen to you speculate about my mental health. I’ve got to polish the speech, I’ll see you two later.”
“The Speech,” Eames corrects him. Arthur pauses in the doorway.
“That’s what I said,” he says.
“No it isn’t,” Eames says. “You said ‘the speech.’ It’s ‘The Speech.’”
“Have you contracted some kind of disease?” Arthur asks.
“You don’t sound very concerned about the possibility,” Eames says reproachfully.
“I’m quaking in my boots,” Arthur says, deadpan, and completes his exit from the room. Eames sighs.
“You may want to consider telling him about the fact that you want to sleep with him,” Yusuf says. “Although of course, if you were going to be perfectly honest, you would have to tell him that you want to sleep with him several times, and probably with several depraved variations each time that innocent minds such as my own cannot even begin to fathom.”
Eames laughs, and then, belatedly, kicks him half-heartedly in the shins.
The next morning, in front of a sold out crowd at the University of Florida, Dom makes The Speech.
It is not the best political speech ever written. It is probably not even in the top ten. It is not filled with soaring rhetoric, or deft turns of phrase. It is not a stirring call to action, or a scathing indictment of politics as usual.
It is, however, entirely and completely heartbreaking.
Arthur has clearly abandoned formality almost entirely in crafting it, and there are moments when it approaches conversational. That is, in fact, essentially what it is: it is Dom having a conversation with a stadium full of people about what love means, and what it means to let someone go.
It is a masterpiece in ghost writing, and if Eames didn’t know better he would tell you that Dom had written it himself. But then there are the lines that draw him up short, that practically scream Arthur and pain.
“I could never deny-- I would never want to deny-- that I loved my wife. I still do,” Dom says near the end of half an hour with a delivery that has scratched the edge of hoarse for the entire thirty minutes. “Throughout this campaign, I have been hesitant to mention Mal because, to be honest, I couldn’t understand what good it would do. But of course, Mal would never have been content as a silent presence. She was vibrant, and devastatingly perceptive, and she would have had quite a few opinions about my campaign thus far, I assure you, none of which would have gone unvoiced. I miss her more than I can possibly explain to you.”
Eames, because he is something of an idiot, and because he is (probably) in love, and because the weight of Dom’s grief is fierce and oppressive, turns to Arthur and murmurs, “I don’t suppose you were in love with your best friend’s wife?”
Arthur does not do any of the several things he could, which include (but are certainly not limited to) punching Eames in the face. Instead he laughs, just for an instant, his eyes full of something Eames isn’t quite sure how to place.
“She was my best friend,” he says. “And I loved her. I wasn’t in love with her. She might’ve thought I was, to be honest. But believe me, I wasn’t.”
“I’m quite pleased to hear you say it,” Eames says before he can think better of it. “And I do. Believe you.”
“Good,” Arthur says. “I’m glad.”
It may or may not be The Speech which pushes Eames over the edge. It could just as easily have been the fact that, on a shrimp boat in New Orleans a week and a half later, Arthur admits to having a shellfish allergy. It could be the affectionately indulgent tone Arthur uses when, two days after that, he tells Eames that he has three Post-It notes stuck to his face. It could even be the way Arthur’s face looks when he is half-asleep on the flight to Arizona, his eyes drowsy and warm. Eames has never claimed that he is not a gigantic sap, after all.
The point is this:
“Right,” Eames says, sitting down across from Arthur at a picnic table. The part of his stomach which is not churning in horrified, gleeful, agonized anticipation is reminding him forcibly that it is wrong not to take advantage of the fact that this campaign stop is also a taco truck.
“Hello,” Arthur says.
“Hello,” Eames says, because it seems like a bad time to ignore pleasantries. Then he says, “Let’s just say, hypothetically, that I was a bit mad about you, and wanted to take you to a five-star restaurant and wine and dine you-- or possibly just take you to a taco truck and wine and dine you-- and then compose slightly cliched and atrocious poetry about the whole experience, not, of course, until after there had been some mutual ravishing.”
Arthur gets a look on his face like a startled cat, which is hardly ever a good thing, and then says, without looking up from his three-cheese burrito, “Speaking hypothetically, that would be absolutely terrible for the campaign.”
Eames expects to feel heartbroken but finds that he is actually just very, very angry.
“Oh fuck you,” he says, and gets up, and walks away.
He gets a text from Yusuf an hour later which says, Sorry he was an ass about it. There’s a very good bar two blocks from the hotel, if you want to get smashed. Let me know, obviously. Drinking alone is pathetic.
am not going to get smashed, Eames replies, but i do appreciate the offer. u are a gentleman & a scholar. p.s.: drinking alone=mysterious, alluring. v. humphrey bogart. i carry it off well.
You are a weepy drunk, his phone informs him a few minutes later, and there is nothing alluring about an inability to separate syllables. No drinking alone, you pathetic bastard.
u are a terrible friend, why do i even know u, Eames writes back, leave me 2 my misery.
If you like, I can dock his pay, Yusuf replies, and then drops the subject entirely, which is one excellent reason that he is Eames’ friend, actually.
Because he is a thirty-something professional political operative, and not a teenage girl in a subpar romantic comedy, Eames does not lounge in his hotel bed watching terrible reality television. Instead, he lounges on his hotel bed and does his job. Unfortunately, his job involves looking through pictures from the last few weeks and deciding which ones should go to Yusuf, and at least a third of those pictures are of Arthur, who has turned out to be a a bit shit, considering he is a coward, and who is tragically still ridiculously handsome.
(Besides which, there is one photo of him watching Cobb give The Speech, his fists clenched and his jaw set so tightly that it looks like it may shatter. His eyes are dark and sure, and his eyebrows are drawn together in a way that is passionate, and nervous, and stupidly, implausibly sexy. So clearly there are some things Arthur is willing to stand up for. Some things.)
So that goes well.
Four days pass. Days have a tendency to do this, Eames has discovered. The campaign grinds inexorably onward; this too is hardly surprising. Eames takes three hundred and twenty-six photos. Twelve of them are of Arthur (five happen when Eames is ever-so-slightly drunk, six are of Dom with Arthur somewhere on the periphery being annoyingly handsome, and one is Arthur staring down at a blank sheet of paper, his teeth digging into his lower lip and his fingers curling around a ballpoint pen because, really-- some things just ought to be captured on film, no matter what).
Then, at eleven oh eight on the evening of the fifth day, someone knocks on the door of Eames’ hotel room.
“Hnrgh?” Eames says, because god damn it people who get up at four in the morning on a regular basis deserve their sleep.
“Oh shit,” says Arthur’s voice from the other side of the door, “I woke you up. Well fuck.”
This is an interesting development and Eames thinks rather groggily.
“I’m just going to assume you’re listening,” Arthur says, “because obviously this is what my life is now. My life is standing in hotel hallways in the middle of the night talking to insufferable British photographers who are probably sleeping. I’m going to get a fucking noise complaint.”
“Hmm,” Eames hums noncommittally. There is a whoosh of breath from the other side of the door.
“I, uh, I may have made a mistake,” Arthur says. “I may have been an asshole. Which I normally don’t apologize for but it’s possible you didn’t actually deserve it. I still don’t-- not that wining and dining isn’t perfectly fine, under some circumstances, but you and I aren’t a good idea. But that’s not-- I shouldn’t have said what I did,” Arthur says finally. “It was a bullshit excuse, and you deserve better.”
Eames silently hoists himself out of bed and opens the door. Arthur is standing there, light from the hallway spilling in around him.
Eames waits. Arthur fidgets, which under most circumstances would be quite amusing. As it is, watching him shift from one foot to the other makes something dig around in Eames’ chest rather painfully.
“I’m just not-- you’re not--” Arthur says.
“This is hardly illuminating so far,” Eames says.
“Oh shut up,” Arthur says. “I’m not-- I can’t figure out how to say this properly.”
“A fairly novel occurrence,” Eames says. Arthur glares, and opens his mouth again only to freeze, his eyes widening almost comically as he stares at something off to Eames’ left.
“Spotted something more interesting than me, have you?” Eames inquires, and turns, and feels the bottom drop out of his stomach.
Arthur moves deftly around him and into the room, and oh well, Eames thinks. He’s already been rather decisively turned down. How much more humiliation can come of this, really?
The thing is that, actually, there is probably a great deal more humiliation to be milked from this situation, and the fact that Eames’ laptop is sitting on his desk, still open to a slide show of his work for the campaign so far, is going to contribute infinitely to the effort.
“That,” Arthur says and then stops. It’s probably quite surreal to watch so many images of himself glide past, one after the other, but Eames is not feeling particularly sympathetic at the moment.
Eames knows himself fairly well. He understands that he has a tendency to make friends a bit too easily, and to eat more pizza in one go than is advisable. He also understands that his photos hide next to nothing. He knows that he always captures Ariadne in cheerful, natural light, and that none of the photographs he has taken of Cobb have been free of shadows. He knows that it is all there to read, and in Arthur’s case each and every picture tells a good deal more than a thousand words’ worth.
“Oh,” Arthur says, and then, “Jesus, why didn’t you say something?”
“I did say something--” Eames begins, but is cut off rather abruptly by Arthur’s mouth on his.
The next morning Eames has the distinct pleasure of seeing what Arthur looks like first thing after waking up. He skirts the edge of adorable, only avoiding full-fledged Jesus-that’s-sweeter-than-a-basket-of-ki
Eames watches as Arthur makes a valiant effort to open his eyes further than three-quarters of the way, and he can actually see the moment when Arthur remembers where he is.
“Good morning,” Eames says cheerfully.
“Oh God, I hate you,” Arthur says. “You’re a morning person. Of course you fucking are. Fuck.”
“Such language,” Eames says, bouncing out of bed. “Goodness. It’s simply shocking. And so early in the morning.”
“Shut up, shut up, you are the worst human being in the world,” Arthur says.
“Thank you darling,” Eames says, “the same to you.”
“I am never sleeping with you again,” Arthur says. “In fact, I may never speak to you again.”
“Of course not,” Eames agrees.
“This is the worst morning of my life,” Arthur mutters, but the beginnings of a smile are pulling at the edges of his mouth, and Eames takes a moment to memorize Arthur just as he is, without the aid of a camera.
“Perhaps I can change your opinion about that, pet,” Eames says.
They are an hour late for the morning strategy meeting, when all is said and done, but Yusuf looks alarmingly pleased when they arrive together and only flays them within an inch of their lives for the offense, so that’s alright.