Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Eames, Cobb/Mal (plus Yusuf, Ariadne, Saito, and blink-and-you'll-miss-him Robert).
Spoilers/Warnings: Well, it follows the plot of the movie (with the character death that implies). But besides that? Nothing!
Summary: The worst thing about Eames, Arthur decides as he pulls his Thai leftovers from the office fridge the next day, is how infuriatingly competent he is. Arthur absolutely cannot fucking stand it. From the inception_kink prompt, "Arthur is a defense attorney, Eames is a prosecutor. (or, you know, the other way round. Whatever you think fits them best)." I did flip it around, for the record!
Disclaimer: Inception is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it.
Notes: So, yes! This took much longer than I expected, and grew much wordier than I expected. About 30 pages wordier, to be exact. But it was wonderfully fun to write, and now here it is! Also, apologies for the legal inaccuracies. I know there are at least a few, and on that note, I will not be held responsible for anyone who uses this fic as their guide to navigating a court of law. ;]
James and Philippa come into the office with Cobb during the third week of March (Mal needs a break, Cobb says tightly), and on the whole they are remarkably well-behaved. Arthur can tell they’ve been told to be very, very good, because he spends all day making phone calls to potential witnesses and only has to tell the kids to be quiet twice. Their voices rarely climb above whispers, and after seven hours he’s only sat in something sticky once. This, Ariadne says sagely (she’s an aunt) is an excellent track record. Arthur is inclined to believe her.
The mess they leave behind is minimal as well (two juiceboxes, one crushed graham cracker, half of a crayon, and one small, metal top). Arthur throws away the juiceboxes, sweeps the crumbs into the trash can, and scoops up the crayon and the top and places them in his desk drawer.
He has two sentencing hearings at the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse the next morning, which sail by with expected outcomes. This is exactly what he wanted, though it is also dead boring. He does not see Eames while he is there.
When he makes it into the office it’s 11:45, and Ariadne is eating lunch at her desk, frowning.
“Not a good sandwich?” He asks, and she glances up, startled.
“What? Oh-- no, it’s fine,” she says, and then, after a pause in which she shreds a corner of her whole-grain wheat bread, “something’s wrong with Cobb though.”
“Like what?” Arthur says, but she only shrugs, still frowning. Arthur can feel his own mouth turning down at the corners as he makes his way to Cobb’s office, trying to think, trying not to panic. “Something’s wrong” could mean anything, of course, and maybe it has nothing to do with bruised wrists and long sleeves.
Cobb is on the phone when Arthur pauses in the doorway. His hair is springing in what seems an awful lot like sixteen directions, and he is running his hand through it near-continually. Arthur feels his frown deepen.
“We’ll find it Mal,” he’s saying. “I promise you, it’s there somewhere. Did you look-- alright. Okay. I’m sorry. We’ll find it, we will.”
Arthur knows what Cobb sounds like when he’s half-frantic and sure no one else has noticed, and this is it. He draws back out of the room, feeling intrusive.
It’s nearly three o’clock when Cobb rushes into Arthur’s office without knocking. Arthur has never seen anyone walk a tightrope, but he thinks maybe if he had the look eyes their eyes would have been a bit like the look in Cobb’s now, especially if while they were halfway across someone had removed the net.
“I’m aware that this is a strange question,” Cobb says after a minute, his fingers worrying at the fabric of his pants, wrinkling it. “But have you seen a top? A metal one, like a kid’s toy.”
Arthur gapes. He knows he’s doing it, but he can’t quite stop.
“Arthur?” Cobb says, apprehensive, leaning forward slightly to peer at him.
“Yes,” Arthur says finally, because it is the simplest thing to say. “I have.”
He opens his desk drawer and pulls the top and the crayon out. He places them on his desk very, very carefully because, well.
“Jesus,” Cobb breathes. He snatches the top up and drops it into the pocket of his suit jacket in one quick, jerky movement. “Arthur, you are-- thank you.”
Arthur knows he’s gaping again, and this time Cobb spots it too.
“Sorry. It’s Mal’s, it’s an-- it’s sort of a family heirloom. She’s been-- worried.”
“Well, I’m glad I found it then,” Arthur says, trying out a smile. Cobb doesn’t quite manage one in return, but Arthur gives him mental points for effort.
“There’s the crayon, too,” Arthur says as an afterthought. Cobb glances down at the broken shard of Crayola for a moment and then laughs. It’s nice to hear.
“You might as well hold on to that,” he says.
“The kids must’ve found it and brought it with them yesterday,” he’s saying on the phone when Arthur walks by his office on the way to the kitchen a few minutes later. “I’ll bring it home right now, alright? It’s okay, it’s going to be okay.”
Jury selection for The People of New York vs. Proclus Global finally begins on October 17, which is a Wednesday. The sky is clear and blue, but cold; the edges of the leaves look very sharp against it. Today will be the first time that Arthur has seen Eames for a month, not that it matters.
Arthur walks through the door at 9:48 for a 10:00 start and is astounded, somewhere underneath the sudden and vivid panic, that Eames is there already.
“Hello,” Eames says, sounding a bit cautious. Eames sounding cautious is incongruous and strange, and it throws Arthur further off-balance than it should.
He realizes he should probably say something.
“Hello,” he says. Eames quirks one eyebrow upwards and seems about to say something, but the early arrivals begin filing into the room, and he only shakes his head.
Jury selection has never been Arthur’s forte, but it is Eames’, of course. All the oxygen in the room seems to hover around him, somehow. Everyone leans toward him and he makes it worth their while, smiling and laughing and teasing and asking about people’s children.
Arthur knows he must look overwhelmingly disinterested in comparison, especially today. He brushes an imaginary bit of dust from his elbow and watches the clock.
Sixteen minutes of eternity pass, during which Arthur asks just enough questions to do his job, fidgets far more than is professional, and never quite meets Eames’ eyes. Halfway through the seventeenth minute Eames turns to the room at large and says, sounding exasperated, “Will you excuse us for a moment?”
He strides out of the room, clearly expecting Arthur to follow him and Arthur, for lack of a better idea, does.
The hallway is quiet and still, and they are standing a few steps apart.
“Arthur,” Eames says finally, and Arthur bites back the sudden realization that opposing counselors do not call each other by their first names.
“There is a concern that we’ve grown too friendly outside of the court room,” Arthur says instead, answering the question before he can be asked. “It’s ridiculous, obviously, but there it is. I’m defusing the situation.”
“You’re-- I’m sorry, what?” Eames says. It’s strange, but after over a year of sparring, in courtrooms and over lunch, Arthur doesn’t think he’s ever heard the other man sound so genuinely angry.
“It doesn’t matter,” Arthur says. “The point is that I love my job.”
He really does, is the thing. He loves looking at a case and seeing all the angles that will need prodding and poking and exploring. He loves condensing pages upon pages of research into concise points, reading over ambiguous bits of nothing so many times his eyes begin to ache, not stopping until he has wrestled the meaning from them. And he loves leading a jury along the same path, removing obstacles and easing their way until they have to see it the way he does. He loves putting it to them so clearly that there is no other choice.
He looks up to find Eames staring at him with a look in his eyes that says he’s trying very hard to solve the puzzle, and Arthur wants to tell him all of this, he really does. The words sit heavy in his chest and wait. Arthur sighs.
“And I’m very, very good at it. So I really can’t afford for people to get the impression that I-- that any friendship we have is going to interfere with my job,” he says.
“I see,” Eames says, sounding calm and bemused again, which is unsettling.
“Right,” Arthur says. “Good.”
At which point he goes back inside, with a strange feeling that he is fleeing the scene of the crime (and also that he’s going to get caught).
Mal makes the announcement on a gray Tuesday morning, when the light coming in through the windows is still skittish and unsure of its welcome.
“I am giving you all notice of my resignation. I’ll be working through the end of the month,” she says in a voice aiming for matter-of-fact.
She says she misses her children, wants to spend time with them. She’s been smiling far less lately, and Arthur tries to convince himself that this is why. Cobb presses a kiss to her cheek and she closes her eyes.
They throw a goodbye party for her (I mean, we’ll still see you, Ariadne says and Mal says Of course, and does not meet anyone’s eyes) and the office overflows with well-wishers. In amongst the journalists and court reporters and attorneys-at-law is Eames, mingling like it’s an Olympic sport. He seems to know everyone in the entire world. Not only that, everyone in the entire world seems to adore him. There’s no accounting for taste, Arthur thinks, but it’s half-hearted.
Ariadne cuts the cake and gives the first slice to Mal, who hands it to Cobb after a cursory glance and a quick half-smile for Ariadne. Cobb sets the plate gently, carefully, down on the table and puts one hand on his wife’s elbow. All of this probably means something.
Arthur drinks more than he should and feels less drunk than he’d like; Mal contemplates a single glass of champagne all evening and laughs an octave higher than usual. Gossips congregate in the corners and whisper about marital troubles, and Arthur wants to punch each and every one of them in the jaw (and then thank them for keeping their accusations so charmingly mundane, because he himself cannot shake the half-formed terror that something else, something worse, is happening).
“You’re listing,” a voice murmurs in his ear. Arthur can feel someone’s breath smooth over the side of his face, and of course he knows whose. Of course.
“Eames,” he says, “it isn’t your job to object to my posture.”
“And ordinarily your posture is in no way objectionable,” Eames says. “But at the moment, dearest, you’re listing.”
“Shut up,” Arthur says, and takes another sip of his wine. They’re standing very close to each other, but moving would require a great deal of effort. There is a pause so long that it ceases to be a pause and becomes a silence, and then Arthur says, “She isn’t herself.”
“I rather think she is herself,” Eames says, “and it’s become a problem.”
Arthur cannot parse this sentence while tipsy, and says so. Eames chuckles, and for a second Arthur thinks he feels fingers skating over his wrist, and has to remind himself that he is actually quite drunk.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to sober up then, or who will appreciate my sterling wit?”
“Everyone here appreciates you and your-- your wit,” Arthur says, “I do, I,” except then he sees the funny look on Eames’ face and decides to stop talking.
He wakes up the next morning with a splitting headache, and when he gets to work Mal’s office is empty. It’s all very strange.
November 12th is a ruthlessly ordinary day in every detail save one: when Arthur gets to work Cobb is not there. He continues to be not-there through the morning and into the afternoon, so Arthur and Ariadne rattle around a half-empty office and make awkward small talk when they meet in the hallway.
At 4:18 his phone rings. Incoming call from Dominic Cobb, the screen informs him, and he answers it prepared to say something teasing and careful about what exactly Dom’s excuse is for being out of the office all day.
“Arthur,” Cobb says before Arthur can say a word. “Fuck, they think-- they think I killed her.”
The first thing Arthur thinks is, Oh. That’s an excellent excuse.
He absentmindedly notes that he is clutching his phone so tightly that his fingernails are aching. He tries very hard to understand what Cobb has just said; he cannot help but think there is a piece missing, an important piece.
“What?” He says.
“Oh Jesus,” Cobb says, and Arthur distantly realizes that Cobb is trying not to cry. “She’s dead, Arthur. She-- and they think I killed her.”
Arthur has a very sharp deductive mind. He always has. His mother had noticed it and bought him piles of Sherlock Holmes mysteries at the garage sales she adored, and even when she forgot she’d bought them and left them scattered around the house, he’d found them and read them. What he’d loved then, and what he loves now, is pushing himself-- forcing his mind from A to B to C so quickly that it looks like he’s gone from A to C, instead.
None of which explains why Arthur cannot comprehend what Cobb is trying so hard to tell him.
“I don’t understand,” he says quietly. Except he does. He does.
“She’s dead,” Cobb says again, and yes, Arthur understands.
“Okay,” he says, and hangs up.
The first thing he does is call Mal and Dom’s house. Mal’s mother answers the phone, sounding like someone has run her over with a truck. This means there is someone with the children. Good, Arthur thinks, and hangs up.
The next thing he does is walk out to the lobby, where the Ariadne is tapping her fingernails against the desk and waiting to go home.
“Mal is dead. Dom’s been arrested for her murder,” Arthur says. “Do you mind staying a little late?”
He’ll be ashamed, later, that he didn’t notice she was crying. But there it is: he doesn’t notice she is crying.
He stands in the lobby while he calls Eames, who answers the phone sounding startled and pleased and probably just a bit annoyed.
“Arthur?” He says.
“I’m hiring you on behalf of Dominic Cobb,” Arthur tells him. “You should come to the office.”
He hangs up for the third time. Then he sits down and closes his eyes and tries not to think about anything at all.
(It doesn’t work. What he thinks about is: her favorite color was red, her favorite month was June, she hated anchovies. What he thinks about is: Dom and Mal were the first two people he’d met who had been in love that quietly, and at first he hadn’t realized they were in love at all. What he thinks about is: oh. Ariadne is crying.)
By the time Eames arrives at the office he looks pale and just this side of overwhelmed, and Arthur knows what that means. It should be frightening to see him so shaken, but Arthur only manages to feel vividly grateful at not having to break the news.
“Arthur,” Eames says, and then stops. Arthur lets the silence grow. He has absolutely no precedent for this situation, no point from which to proceed; it’s annoying. Eames’ lips press together in what Arthur distantly categorizes as a (successful) attempt to maintain control, and then he says, “I’m going to need the details.”
Something else was supposed to be said there, Arthur thinks. He wishes he knew what it was.
“Arthur?” Ariadne says from the desk, where she is sitting, her back ramrod straight. Waiting for orders.
“I-- what?” Arthur says.
“Details,” Eames prompts, concern hooding his eyes.
“I don’t know them,” Arthur confesses, or realizes, or says, anyway. He should know the details already, of course. There’s a specific sort of shame that comes with knowing you haven’t managed the impossible.
“Right,” Eames says, without pause, “well. We’ll figure them out then.”
He and Arthur stand on opposite sides of the room, looking at each other; neither of them, Arthur knows, will be the first to point out that there’s nothing to do, not until tomorrow at the earliest.
They end up in Arthur’s office, Eames and Ariadne curled into the visitors’ chairs. They order pizza and forget to eat it until it’s already cold, and Arthur scribbles mindless notes onto a legal pad. When it creeps past ten, and then eleven, Arthur insists that Ariadne go home and get some rest (the words that stumble past his tongue are something about how entirely useless it is for her to waste her energy here, and Eames has to leap into the gap to smooth things over by talking about saving energy for tomorrow).
A great expanse of nothing occurs, and neither Eames nor Arthur makes a move to leave (Eames finishes the last of the pizza; Arthur reads a days-old newspaper over and over again, and never remembers the headlines). At two o’clock in the morning, Eames challenges Arthur to a game of hangman, which turns out to be bizarrely comforting.
Arthur wakes up face down on his desk. The first thing he realizes is that his nose is being squashed into a pile of legal briefs, which is wholly undignified.
The second thing he realizes is that Mal is dead.
He keeps his eyes shut for seven minutes (he knows because he counts the seconds meticulously in his head and doesn’t bother with anything else).
When he opens them, and lifts his head from his desk, he sees Eames asleep in his own chair, somehow managing to sprawl within its mahogany confines. He’s wearing a sly little half-smile, one that Arthur’s been lucky enough to provoke a few times while they were both awake, and he’s snoring slightly. Arthur files this all away for future consideration, and then stands up.
Five minutes later, Eames wakes up a pile of bleary, awkward limbs, and leaps from the chair and out the door, muttering something urgent and more-than-half-asleep about needing to speak to someone about being assigned to Cobb's case. Arthur blinks and absolutely does not feel abandoned.
The entire day goes from zero to sixty (wherein sixty is defined as mal’s dead cobb’s under arrest my life is falling apart jesus there’s too much to do and what if none of it works) in what feels like the blink of an eye, and Arthur thanks whichever deities give a fuck that he hasn't got anything scheduled at the courthouse for today. His time can be given over to Cobb, and to this-- well, to his case.
There are isolated moments when the work-- the phone calls and the reading and the frantic gulps of coffee between breaths-- feels like the work done for any big case. This is the sort of breakneck pace at which Arthur excels, and he catches himself on the edge of enjoying it as he reaches blindly for his pen, not wanting to take his eyes off of the paragraph he's reading.
The momentary rush of adrenaline (and delight, grim delight at finding precisely what he's looking for) makes him feel nothing so much as nauseous, and he slams his notebook shut and pushes his chair back.
Three days pass. Arthur neglects his other cases to a degree which under any other circumstances he would deign shocking and unprofessional. As it is, he simply knows it to be necessary. Ariadne stubbornly refuses to fall apart at the office, but answers the phone with a drag in her voice which sounds a great deal like crying. Arthur, for want of anything better to do, tries to give her the day off. She unequivocally refuses, looking like someone has shoved her off of a cliff.
“I’m sorry,” he says immediately, “I didn’t mean-- I didn’t mean what you think I mean. I didn’t mean you weren’t helpful.”
“Well if I’m helpful I’m staying,” she says, which puts an end to that. Arthur gives up on trying to be comforting; somewhere in the back of his mind he delegates it to Eames, who is infinitely more capable of it.
Arthur has taken to calling Eames every evening and exchanging muttered, exhausted conversation about how they are absolutely nowhere. Arthur always resists the urge to demand good news, as if Eames could somehow produce a watertight defense for murder at the drop of a hat.
Three days is more than enough time for the details of the case to emerge, and each of them is more unnerving, more rattling and frantic than the next, but the true show-stopper is revealed when Eames barges into Arthur’s office on the morning of the second day and says, “She filed a letter with an attorney.”
Arthur looks up, his throat filling with dread, and manages to say, “What?”
“A letter, a fucking letter-- she planned this Arthur, she planned it well. She filed a letter saying she was concerned for her safety. She had herself declared sane by at least two different psychologists-- I think there might’ve been a third. I’m working on it.”
“It was three psychologists,” Arthur says quietly. “It was three, the last one just called me back.”
“This is monumentally and utterly fucked up,” Eames says, and strides out of Arthur’s office, slamming the door on his way out.
On the afternoon of the third day, Eames finally manages to persuade the proper level of bureaucracy that he is Dominic Cobb’s legal representation and is granted visitation rights.
Arthur goes with him as far as what Eames sarcastically calls the jail’s foyer, a ridiculously metallic box of a room in which everything echoes.
“Authorized visitors only beyond this point,” a sign declares in block letters, and so Arthur sits on the edge of the most uncomfortable chair he’s ever experienced. Eames proceeds through metal detectors and past glaring security guards galore, and disappears into a dark bit of corridor.
It is the most strange and claustrophobic place he has ever been, and his gut twists with the recognition that a cell must, almost by definition, be infinitely worse. This is only a-- a foyer, he thinks, and nearly laughs.
After what seems to be an eternity during which Arthur fidgets far more than is reasonable, Eames emerges, his face arranged into neutrality.
Arthur has a sudden and visceral need to know everything that was said, word for word, and stops himself from asking for a conversational reenactment only when he notices how rigidly Eames is holding himself.
“Let’s get out of here,” Arthur says instead in a voice which he hopes approaches casual, and Eames nods.
They get lunch in what feels like a sad attempt at parody. Arthur is fairly certain the last time they’d got lunch together they had argued about Senate abuses of the filibuster and who the best Beatle was.
The first thing that falls out of his mouth when they’ve been seated is, “How is he?”
The minute he’s said it Arthur can’t help but feel it’s a monumentally stupid question, the answer to which ought to be something along the lines of, Well, locked up for the murder of his wife, so absolutely fucking peachy.
“He’s pretty awful,” is what Eames says.
“Not shocking,” Arthur says before he can think about it. Eames gives a surprised little half-laugh and says, “No. Not a Grade-A surprise, I agree.”
Arthur’s urge to interrogate fades for no reason he can pinpoint, and they eat lunch in surreal, companionable silence, both of them with what Arthur suspects are long lists of things they’d rather not talk about.
After they’ve both finished eating they monopolize the table, ignoring the glares from various members of the waitstaff, and Arthur does interrogate, just a bit.
The salient points from Eames’ conversation with Cobb are these: (1) he did not kill his wife, and (2) he absolutely will not, under any circumstances, plead guilty.
Arthur scrubs a quick hand over his face and says, “What’re we going to do?”
Eames shakes his head.
“Honestly? I’ve got no idea,” he says, but Arthur feels a surge of something like hope because by now he knows how Eames sounds when he is lying.
Only the days pass and Eames does not provide a miracle. In fact he disappears almost entirely, saying a great deal of nothing during their nightly phone calls. Arthur is left to his own devices.
The thing about pleading guilty, of course, is that Cobb has no choice in the matter. Going to trial maintaining his innocence is strategically idiotic. The evidence against him is overwhelming, and while Arthur has never worked with this particular state prosecutor Eames grimly assures him that Robert Fischer is notorious for seeking the death penalty. Obviously, this is an unacceptable outcome. Obviously, there is only one sensible thing to do: plead guilty and mount an insanity defense. Obviously, there is no perfect solution, but-- well.
When Arthur finally wrangles the right to half an hour of visiting time he is prepared to make this argument as loudly and lengthily as is necessary. He is pushed and prodded and ordered through security, and finds himself in a visiting room with a telephone in his hand and Cobb staring at him from the other side of bulletproof glass. Suddenly, Arthur has nothing to say. All he can think is it sounds like a prison in here, which he knows does not mean anything at all.
“You’ve got to enter a plea next week,” he manages finally. Just the two of them talking business, glancing over schedules for their clients, just like always.
“I know,” Cobb says, clutching the phone, his knuckles white.
“It has to be insanity,” Arthur hears himself saying in a painfully desperate voice. “You’ve got to plead guilty. You have to.”
“No,” Cobb says simply, which is really not fucking acceptable.
“You have to,” Arthur says again, and feels himself settling thoroughly into this argument. If he says it often enough, Cobb will have to agree.
“No,” Cobb says, “I don’t.”
“There aren’t any other options,” Arthur says. “Don’t be an idiot.”
“I can’t,” Cobb says, “I can’t, I-- my kids.”
“Oh,” Arthur says, his voice nearly abandoning him entirely. He hadn’t been thinking. He doesn’t have the energy to berate himself for the oversight, but fuck, what an oversight.
“I can’t tell them I killed her,” Cobb says, his voice sounding like it’s been wrenched from somewhere deep underground. “They can’t hear that.”
Arthur wastes twenty-seven precious seconds on feeling deeply and entirely ashamed, and then says the only thing he can think of.
“What happened?” He says.
There is silence, and Arthur fidgets in his chair, pushing himself further toward the edge. He has to consciously remember that he is not eight years old and in the principal’s office.
“She got lost,” Cobb says finally, refusing to meet Arthur’s eyes through the glass. “I didn’t realize. I thought I was saving her. Us. Saving us.”
Arthur frowns and leans forward.
“Saving her from what?” He asks.
“I didn’t realize that she would lose herself like that,” Cobb says, or whispers, really, and then falls silent. Arthur wants to slam the phone down, to reach through the glass and shake the man who taught him to always demand the truth; he wants something to make sense.
“Is it-- Cobb you’ve got to explain, please,” he says instead.
“I don’t think I could explain,” Cobb says. His voice sounds like it’s traveling through more than glass. “It’s something you have to see for yourself. We explored it, together. It was incredible. We were, pioneers, Arthur, it’s a final frontier.”
“Whatever it is you know, whatever it is you’ve found, you’ve got to tell me,” Arthur says, lost himself. “It could help, it could be exactly what we need for your defense.”
It’s all slipping away from him, the long line of the future. It is Cobb locked away and Mal dead, and their children left to grow up without understanding. It is Arthur left without understanding.
Cobb shakes his head. The bags under his eyes stand out in sharp contrast against paper pale skin, and he presses his fingertips against his eyelids for a long moment.
“They’ll think I’m crazy,” he says hoarsely. “Or lying. Possibly both.”
“You should at least be getting more sleep,” Arthur says uselessly. Cobb only shakes his head again, anyway.
Two days later Arthur gets a call at one o’clock in the morning which wakes him up from what he absolutely will not admit was a half-doze (he’s sitting at his desk, his computer monitor faintly glowing at him about I hereby certify that at the time I affixed my signature to this document Mallorie Cobb was of sound mind and body).
“Hello?” He says, hoarse.
“It’s got something to do with dreams, I think,” Eames says without preamble, “Nobody wants to talk about it. But it’s got something to do with dreams.”
Nothing makes any sense at all.
Arthur does not ask about dreams; he has no time for them. The real world is offering up far more pressing concerns.
“He won’t plead guilty,” Arthur says, and Eames sighs into the phone.
“I know,” he says.
“He’ll be convicted,” Arthur says. He isn’t surprised at how level his voice is, only at how much he cannot stand the sound of it.
“If we go to trial, yes,” Eames says.
“We’re going to trial,” Arthur says. “We haven’t got a choice.”
“I know some people you wouldn’t like,” Eames says, apropos of nothing. “People who break the law routinely, and do it very well, and are never convicted of a crime.”
Arthur does not say anything.
“I am about to call one of those people,” Eames says. “And if you do not want to know why, you should hang up now.”
Arthur does not say anything.
He does not hang up.
Saito turns out to be one of the people Eames knows who break the law routinely, and do it very well, and are never convicted of a crime. Arthur cannot even manage to dredge up surprise, and only nods at the CEO he’s meant to be convincing a jury to convict.
Saito’s office is elegant, and tasteful, and makes Arthur’s skin crawl just slightly. He feels light-headed, but he cannot tell if it is from the imminent breaking of the law, or the fact that he has not slept properly in a week, or Eames’ proximity. The last thought is unforgivably embarrassing, but Arthur lets himself think it anyway, as a concession to how everything that has happened since Cobb’s 4:18 phone call has probably been some kind of fever dream.
“I can have your friend on the next flight out of the country,” Saito is saying when Arthur reminds himself firmly to pay attention, “if what you say is true.”
Arthur glances sharply at Eames, who does not return the look.
“It’s true,” he says to Saito.
“I will want Mr. Cobb to do me a small favor, then, when things have calmed down,” Saito says.
“You can’t possibly expect him to go charging back into someone else’s head,” Eames says. “He’s just lost his wife for God’s sake.”
“I am sure being freed from prison will do wonders for his outlook,” Saito says, and Eames snaps his mouth shut without another word.
It’s all over surprisingly quickly, really. Arthur has never had any illusions about the glamor of a life of crime-- he’s put too many people behind bars to think that breaking the law is particularly glitzy. But Eames and Saito shake hands, and then they are being ushered out of Saito’s office and Arthur is the accessory to a crime. It isn’t a sharp pain-- more of a dull, slow ache that seems to have centered itself in his collarbone.
They stand on the sidewalk together, shoulders brushing, and Arthur thinks about how fiercely and proudly and stupidly idealistically he loves the American judicial system. Then he thinks about explaining to James and Philippa that their father is dead. The ache doesn’t dissipate, but it is far easier to bear.
“Come and get lunch,” Eames says.
“You make no sense at all,” Arthur says before he can stop himself.
Eames smiles, a little sharp and a little sad, and says, “I make more sense than you notice, pet.”
Arthur swallows against nothing and says, “I'm hungry,” because it is something to say.
They go to lunch.
Eames hails a cab and gives the driver an address Arthur recognizes as being near JFK International. Their destination turns out to be a dingy fast food joint which is remarkable only in how entirely nondescript it is. Arthur orders a burger which tastes a bit like a burger and mostly like very bland gravel.
He keeps himself from complaining by cataloging the quick looks Eames is sending his way, each less surreptitious than the last and all of them nervous. Arthur isn’t an idiot. Something is going to happen, and it is going to happen while he’s sitting in a diner someone could have assembled out of a cardboard box, aching.
“What I’ve just done,” Eames says, sounding absurdly careful, “is illegal. Very illegal.”
Arthur does not dispute this. There is nothing to dispute, save the pronoun. He bends his head toward the table and begins tearing at the edges of his napkin instead, fraying it.
“I can’t really stay here any longer,” Eames says. Arthur freezes, and feels oddly like a marionette when he raises his head slowly, slowly, to look Eames in the eye.
“I feel it would be unwise, that is,” Eames says. “And I am going to leave. I thought you might like to come along.”
You make no sense at all, Arthur thinks, but it is such a lie, and he isn’t tempted in the least to give it voice.
“I haven’t got anything I’d need,” he says, in a voice which is very much not shaking. He is acutely aware that he is not saying ‘no.’ “Not my passport, not my ID-- not anything.”
“I may or may not have that taken care of,” Eames says, “by which I mean ‘I have that taken care of.’”
He’s pushing something across the tabletop. It’s a passport, Arthur realizes, for someone named Arthur Davidson. He doesn’t bother pointing out that his last name isn’t Davidson; it’s painfully obvious that that is the point.
“There are plenty of opportunities for men with our particular skills,” Eames says. “And I think you’d honestly enjoy some of the work. You should know that I’m avoiding making a truly cheesy remark right now about how I prefer not to work solo.”
“Duly noted,” Arthur says.
“There’s an ID as well,” Eames says after a moment’s pause, “and should the need arise-- which it probably will, someday-- a birth certificate, a social security card, and transcripts from kindergarten through university.”
“Where did I go to school?” Arthur asks absentmindedly, staring down at the person he needs to be.
“Brown. You didn’t fit in at first, but they learned to appreciate you they way they should,” Eames says. Arthur supposes that was the first compliment anyone has ever given Arthur Davidson, and finds himself smiling.
“I never asked you your first name,” Arthur says when they’ve arrived at their gate. Eames sinks into an airport chair and smiles up at Arthur, not bemused or wry or even teasing, but happy. Arthur has a moment of unrepentant sentimentality and has to breathe carefully.
“It doesn’t matter,” Eames says. “It’s different now, anyway.”
Arthur kisses him at Gate 16D of John F. Kennedy International Airport, in front of the flight attendants and God and everyone, and thinks that Arthur Davidson, whoever he is, has extraordinary luck.
(When Eames pulls him down for a second kiss, Arthur doesn't bother thinking about anything at all.)