Word Count: 14,700
No one has better timing than a mother.
Or worse timing, depending on what said mother wants.
"Mum, no," Eames says into the phone, kicking the refrigerator door closed with his bare foot since his hands are currently full of ale bottles and sable paint brushes.
"You haven't seen your cousins since the last time you decided to remember you even have relations. I believe that was the Boxing Day before last."
"Now you're just exaggerating."
"As the next head of this family you have obligations to uphold --"
"I just saw Jasper and Imani last week." Eames cuts his mother off before she can call him by his complete name. All four parts of it.
"Getting pissed in the beer garden of the Eagle Tavern does not count as 'seeing' your family."
"It was Jasper's idea," Eames says, leaving his kitchen. The hardwood floors are cool against the soles of his feet and he uses his elbow to open the door of the spare bedroom.
"Of course it was Jasper's idea," his mother says.
Eames sets down the brushes and bottles of Newcastle on his drafting table. It's cold in the spare bedroom. The windows are high on the wall. They bring in the light but not the warmth of the autumn sun. "If I blamed Imani you'd never forgive me."
"Because she's lovely and will be giving your Aunt Sarah grandchildren eventually."
"We're not having the grandchildren conversation again."
Olivia Dearamore Eames, The Duchess of ___________ does not sigh. But the noise Eames hears down the phone certainly sounds like one. "Is it really so much to ask that my only child grace my table with his presence on the rare occasion that he happens to be in the country?"
"Are you sighing?" his mother demands.
"No, of course not."
"You always were a terrible liar."
"I get paid to lie to people, you know."
"Yes, but they are not your mother."
Eames chuckles as he sorts through the plastic bucket of colored pencils in the corner of his desk. "That's better," his mother says. "And I hear you making noises. Whatever are you doing?"
Eames shifts his phone from one ear to the other and picks up several pencils in his right hand. He draws better with his right hand, but he paints better with his left.
"Just messing around," Eames says, hooking his chair with his right foot and dragging it over so he can sit down.
He hasn't really had time to himself in a while. Inception will do that to you.
"Draw me something with color," his mother says as Eames flips open a red sketchbook with an advert for Curly Wurlys pasted on the cover.
"How did you--" Eames' question is cut off by his call-waiting beeping in his ear. "Mum, can you hold on a moment?"
"For you, darling, I might even find two."
Eames is still chuckling when he picks up the other line. "E A Limited," he says, switching over seamlessly to a rather broad Streatham accent. E A Limited is how he answers all calls he can't attribute to his mother. Or his father. Or any of his seven first cousins and their various wives, husbands, partners and sprogs.
"Arthur, always a pleasure."
"Are you busy?"
Eames looks down at the violet-colored pencil in his hand. "That depends."
Eames can just see that little furrow appearing on the inside of Arthur's left eyebrow. "That depends on the nature of this phone call," he says, sketching a rough outline of a woman he saw today at Tescos. She had perfectly flawless coffee-colored skin and bright-red dreadlocks. "Is it a social call, a business call, a grab the nearest heavy artillery and circle the wagons call? Specificity is key."
Arthur clears his throat. He's trying not to laugh. He always clears his throat when he's trying not to laugh. "It's a business call."
"Of course it is. Forgery?"
"You wouldn't expect me to call you if my sink were leaking, would you?"
"I'm rather good at plumbing; you never know."
"I didn't know that."
"And now you do."
There's a silence on the other end of the line.
"So," Eames prods. He finishes the outline and picks up a strawberry-red colored pencil.
"So," Arthur says.
"Where do you want me?" There's a pause. A long pause. "Arthur, the location," Eames presses. "My mother's on the other line; she's not one to be kept waiting."
"Oh. Oh," Arthur says. "Sorry, Paris. Sooner rather than later."
"Fine," Eames says. "Send me the details and I'll see you then."
"Apologize to your mother for me," Arthur says. "I didn't mean to keep her waiting."
Arthur is apologizing to Eames' mum. Right. Eames is still laughing when he goes back to his mother's phone call.
"I didn't think it was that funny," his mother says.
"Sorry," Eames says. "That was –- that was Arthur."
"Of course it was," his mother says. Eames doesn't like that tone in her voice.
It's somewhere between tolerance and amusement. Parents shouldn't laugh at their children. Unless they share the joke.
"I have to go, Mum," he says apologetically. "Work calls."
"No, darling," his mother says. "Work didn't call, Arthur called."
"It's the same thing," Eames says.
His mother makes what he can only describe as a mocking noise. "Hardly."
Eames was stuck in a blizzard in Poland the first time his mother heard Arthur's name.
The conversation had gone something like this:
"If you don't have an exceptionally good reason for missing my birthday, you can expect your disinheritance papers in the post directly," his mother said by way of greeting.
"I can explain," Eames said.
Eames was in the shit because the job had taken two weeks longer than planned and he'd missed her sixtieth birthday. He had also nearly been killed by the Pruszków Mob and was currently stranded in a cabin in Suwałki with three of his associates and about nine feet of snow outside, but he didn't really think the details would help him at that moment.
"Working." His mother said the word "working" the same way other people said "bubonic plague" or "polyester."
"It's always complicated with you, young man. Who are you working with?"
"A few people." A few people being Mal and Dom Cobb and their latest protégé, a terribly serious young man with razor-sharp suits, a crooked smile he was very stingy about sharing and a propensity toward shooting Eames in the face when hooked up to the PASIV.
"Arthur," Eames said, just as the person in question walked into the kitchen wearing an enormous fur Ushanka and three layers of plaid flannel. It was rather cold in the cabin, which was what happened when people took a job in Podlaskie Voivodeship -– the coldest province in Poland.
Why couldn't they have gone to Warsaw where the weather was tolerable seven months out of the year?
Arthur blinked at Eames. He looked utterly adorable. In a trained killer teddy bear sort of way.
"Arthur," his mother repeated. "I hope you're not Lancelot in this scenario."
"No, definitely not."
Eames licked his lips. "No, definitely not Guinevere either," he said.
Arthur's mouth quirked at the left corner and Eames looked away. Looked at the dust webs attached to the kitchen light fixture. At the ancient refrigerator that was rumbling away happily in the corner. He looked down at the striped socks on Arthur's feet.
"Are you in love?" his mother demanded.
Eames could feel the blood drain from his face. "Hardly," he wheezed through a rather convincing fake laugh (if he did say so himself).
"You laugh now; will you still be laughing in a month?"
Eames watched Arthur's feet move around the kitchen. He stopped laughing.
"That's what I thought," his mother said smugly.
Eames cleared his throat and turned back toward the window, which was pretty much covered with snow. Strangely enough, watching hell freeze over was considerably less stressful to witness than Arthur's sock-clad feet.
Eames catches the 15:02 Eurostar from St Pancras to the Gare du Nord. He packs light. The books (Plutarch, Aldous Huxley and Marian Keyes) weigh more than the clothes do. He brings his favorite green tweed jacket and an uproariously appalling purple-and-orange argyle wool vest that he's been saving just to see the expression on Arthur's face.
The warehouse is an abandoned PSA Peugeot Citroën building on the banks of the Seine. It's so far south down the river that they're practically outside the city. Apparently Citroën has moved its bases to Vesoul in the east. At least that's what the sign in the window says.
When Eames opens the door, he's greeted by the Spice Girls echoing from every corner of the ground floor. There are tables and desk chairs punctuated by dead plants, but there's a cluster of desks and filing cabinets that could only have been pulled together by people with a very specific purpose.
Eames drops his leather satchel on a desk covered with blueprints and flips open a manila folder that turns out to be full of color photographs and pages of notes highlighted by Arthur's precise spidery script.
Frankly, Eames thinks he writes Arthur's handwriting better than Arthur does.
"So tell me what you want, what you really really want," a shrill voice calls to him.
Eames snickers, grabs a protein bar from the controlled chaos of Arthur's desk and walks around to where the music is playing.
Of course it's Yusuf.
Even better though: it's Yusuf singing about polyamory. If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends.
There are hips shaking and there is hair moving. Eames knows professional dancers who aren't as fleet of foot as Yusuf when he's weaving around beakers and giving Scary Spice a run for her money.
"So, Chemist Spice," Eames says by way of greeting. "Are you preparing for your great comeback tour?"
Yusuf whirls around, the grin on his face bright and earnest. "Eames!" He pauses, eyes wide behind his safety glasses. "You are not Eames. Your clothes are too tasteful for you to be my friend."
Eames looks down at his plain white t-shirt and black leather jacket. He saw the jacket in the window of the Diesel in Neal's Yard: it was calling his name.
"I've missed you too, you fucking twat," he says, making a face at Yusuf.
Yusuf holds out his arms for a hug. "Eames, it is you."
Eames laughs and claps Yusuf on the back. "So, everything all right?" he says, perching on an available stool. He dials back the volume on Yusuf's music so his ears will stop bleeding.
"I am fine. Deyva is fine. The children are fine," Yusuf says, bustling around. "They all wish you would come back to Mombasa. There is no one to tell the children crude stories and teach them bad words in French. Deyva has had to resort to smacking me with newspapers now. You must help me."
"Even the cat misses you, that traitorous beast." Yusuf turns and grins at Eames just as he's mixing a blue liquid with the brown contents of a separate flask.
The resulting mushroom cloud could put Chernobyl to shame.
Eames blinks. Everything is white.
"Am I blind?" he asks with some degree of seriousness even as he tries to fan the smoke from his face.
Since he can see his hand moving in front of him, he assumes he's not.
Yusuf coughs from somewhere. "It was supposed to do that."
"Do you lie to Deyva like this?" Eames asks. "No wonder she hits you with newspapers."
"I can fix this." There's a clatter, the unmistakable noise of glass shattering and then a buzzing noise. The smoke begins to clear.
Eames blinks more. He can just make out Yusuf holding an electric fan before him like a shield in the heat of battle. "Electric fan. Best invention of the Twentieth Century." Yusuf says.
"Nineteenth Century," Eames corrects. "Schuyler Wheeler. Eighteen eighty-six."
Yusuf sticks out his tongue. "Must you be so smart? It's very annoying for the rest of us."
"Do I complain about your brilliance?"
"No, but you should."
"And make you insufferable? No, I quite like you the way you are." Eames unwraps the protein bar he nicked from Arthur's desk and takes a large bite. Oats and cranberries and strawberries and blueberries. Not even any chocolate. Yuck.
"You like me the way I am? Now you are confusing me with Arthur."
Eames gives Yusuf a very obvious once over. "I don't think there's much chance of that."
"Yes, but you are flirting, and since I am immune to your charms, it's not working."
Eames looks from his protein bar to Yusuf. Maybe that explosion did something to Yusuf's brain. Maybe all the years of chemicals and experimentation have finally addled it. "I'm not trying to chat you up, Yusuf."
"You are practicing for when Arthur gets back with Ariadne. I understand."
"I am not practicing."
"You are always practicing. Both of you. It would be annoying if it were not quite so endearing."
"I'm not practicing," Eames repeats, chewing viciously on a mouthful of oats and berries.
"Yes, you are, which is strange for you. You are normally a man of action. Where is all of your action?"
"I believe you're confusing me with someone who's not a lazy git."
Yusuf laughs. "Arthur may fall for this false self-deprecation, but you do not fool me; I have known you for far too long. I knew you when you could only forge misshapen copies of your cousin's girlfriend."
"We agreed not to talk about Zanzibar again."
"I did not mention Zanzibar. I was thinking of Mykonos."
Eames can't even say anything to that. That's the last time he makes the mistake of combining a holiday with work. He did at least get to see the five windmills and enjoy that lovely room on the waterfront before the men with knives arrived.
Yusuf is waving the fan around like a presenter on a Brazilian game show. "You are not like this with anyone else but Arthur, so I can only assume it is serious."
Serious. Eames is pretty sure you have to know what's going on to be serious. "Did you inhale something recently I should know about?" he parries.
"Do not attempt to deflect; I have two small children. You are not as experienced as they are."
"What makes you think I want in Arthur's pants?" Eames says.
Yusuf rolls his eyes and turns off the fan. "Because you are you and he is himself and that is what you two do. You two are like Beatrice and Benedick, but I do not know which is which."
"I'm not wearing Shakespearean dress."
"This time," Yusuf says. "More importantly, though, you seem to actually care about each other. As I said: very endearing."
"I never said I cared," Eames protests.
Yusuf raises an eyebrow as he sets the fan down. "Pull the other one, it has bells on it."
Once upon a time in Antananarivo, Madagascar, there was a bar called Le Glacier Analakely.
Le Glacier Analakely was located in Hôtel Le Glacier. The bar was perfect: loud, vivacious, the music infectious. It had a cabaret and bands, which covered everything from The Beatles to Bob Marley to traditional music. It was the sort of place people went to lose their minds, their sobriety and possibly their inhibitions about public sex.
And as long as patrons didn't mind the pick-pockets at the bar and the prostitutes at the hotel, everything was fine.
As one of the aforementioned pick-pockets, Eames obviously enjoyed himself in Antananarivo. He tended not to frequent the same bars twice since he was supposed to be lying low and not indulging in his more sticky-fingered tendencies.
On the night he visited Le Glacier Analakely, he indulged copiously in the myriad types of lager and brightly-colored drinks the bartender continually placed before him. It took him at least two drinks to realize the bartender was adding ingredients from various squeeze bottles with no names on them to the drinks he was dishing out.
The fourth time Eames caught this, he beckoned over the bartender who was wearing a bright red shirt and had the sort of thick, curly hair that Eames' cousin Amelia would've committed murder for.
"Do you reckon you should be doing that?" Eames hollered over the gangster rap/drum-and-bass mash-up blaring through the speakers.
"Doing whatever you're doing that most of these coddled middle-class prats are too pissed to notice."
The bartender looked at Eames with wide eyes and held up his hands in confusion. "Why not?" he said. "It is not doing anyone any harm."
"How do you know it's not doing them any harm? That's not water, is it?"
"What is in here is infinitely safer than that drink you have in your hand right now."
"You dosed me as well?" Eames said incredulously.
"Of course not," the man said, clearly offended. "You are working. I do not interfere with anyone's livelihood."
Eames waved behind him to the various marks he'd picked out. "So what are they?"
"Subjects for my experiment."
"And what experiment is that?" The gangster/bass fusion became Rick James. Superfreak. Quite.
"Look behind you," the man said.
Eames narrowed his eyes.
"You are so suspicious," the bartender teased. "We must work on that. Now, just look."
Eames turned on his stool and looked through the blue spotlit haze around the room. He looked at the laughing girls in the corner and the couple on the dance floor, grinning stupidly at each other. There were three boys in another corner throwing wadded-up napkins in the direction of the girls. Even the other people he recognized as being "at work" were smiling –- but presumably for non-pharmaceutical reasons. Everyone just seemed very happy.
Eames turned back to the bartender. "What am I looking at?"
"These people are happy," the man said. "I am helping to make them happy. Where is the harm in that?"
"You couldn't just ask before you gave them illegal drugs?"
The man frowned. "Where's the fun in that?"
Eames pushed his glass across the bar. "Make me another drink. Where I can see it."
The man sighed and went to work on a gin and tonic. "You must work on your trust issues –" the man paused and looked at Eames expectantly.
"Eames," he supplied.
"Very English. I am Yusuf," the bartender said, sliding the drink across the bar.
Eames raised his glass to Yusuf. "Cheers."
"The subject's name is Dr. Michael Weingarten," Arthur says, taping a photo of a middle-aged white male with strangely colorless hair to the blackboard. "He is forty-seven years old and lives in Willesden Green with his wife and three dogs."
"Why are we here if he's in London?" Eames asks.
"Because Ariadne and I live here, and we outnumber you," Arthur says. "And because he's here for a conference for a few days. We'll go to London when he does."
Eames shifts in his seat. "Fair enough. What type of dogs?"
"Who walks them?"
Arthur doesn't miss a beat. "He does in the morning; his wife Geraldine walks them in the evening."
"What are their names?"
"Groucho, Harpo and Chico."
Eames raises an eyebrow. "A Marx Brothers fan."
Arthur tapes up two more photos, one of the dogs and another of a plump woman with sandy blond hair pulled back from her face. "Groucho, Harpo, Chico and Geraldine," he says.
Eames studies the photos at the same time he studies Arthur.
Arthur's wearing a navy herringbone waistcoat and matching trousers. His tie is a deep aubergine and his shirt is rolled up to his forearms. Eames has issues with Arthur's forearms. The lean, sinewy muscle. The way the muscles shift when Arthur's writing on the dry-wipe board he's set up in a circle of chairs.
Only an utter idiot would think Arthur is weak because he's slender. Eames has watched Arthur decimate men three times his size in the real world with a sharp kick to the knee and the sort of blow to the nose that probably sends the bone back into the brain.
Arthur's talking about Dr. Weingarten's work in the medical field and his discoveries for Company X. About the fact that Company X thinks Dr. Weingarten has made a serious breakthrough in a cure for male pattern baldness but that he's going to try and sell it to a competitor.
Naturally, Company X is not happy about this.
"Eames," Arthur says sharply.
Eames rubs at his left eye. There's something in it. "Yes, Arthur?"
"Are you listening to what I'm saying?"
"We're being paid an obscene amount of money to find out if Dr. Weingarten is going to answer the prayers of millions of men in the world who think that what's on top of your head is more important than what's in it. The fact that an entire sub-section of society suffers from a compensatory complex is depressing. I could be at home watching Kitchen Nightmares and working on my Degas recreation."
"What are you recreating?" Ariadne looks up from the hole she's been picking at in the knee of her corduroy trousers. Clearly she's just as fascinated at Eames is.
Her brow furrows. "I didn't know you did real art forgeries."
"He's very good," Yusuf says before Eames can answer. "I still don't know if the Rivera in my kitchen is real or fake."
"Your wedding present is not a fake," Eames says, offended. He bought that painting at Sotheby's. And it was not cheap.
"Which Rivera was it?" Arthur asks.
"The Flower Carrier," Yusuf says.
"Which one is that?" Ariadne asks.
"It's the one with the man carrying a basket of flowers," Yusuf mocks.
"It's the painting where a woman is helping a man carry a basket of flowers," Eames corrects. "It symbolizes the power of working together. Of sharing the burden. Seemed like an excellent plan for a lifetime of being with the same person."
Arthur licks his lips; Eames looks away when Ariadne shifts her chair closer to him. "You paint and do pastels?" she says. "What else do you do?"
Eames can feel three sets of eyes boring into his face. He scratches the back of his neck. "Clay sculpture, charcoal, water colors, pencils, oil-based paints. I like marble, but it's very temperamental. It's easier to just steal that."
"Jesus Christ, Eames, I thought you just did this in dreams."
"Re-creation is re-creation," Eames says with a shrug. He gives Arthur a brief glance -– he's staring at Eames very intently. Eames notes the soft face and the closed mouth. He can practically hear the gears turning in Arthur's head. See the little invisible pen taking notes in Arthur's mental notebook.
"But you have to be good," Ariadne insists.
"I like touching things," Eames says as though that explains everything. "I like working with my hands. Working with paint isn't that different from working with people: all you're trying to do is figure out what makes something work. What makes you feel something. What connects."
"So what makes Dr. Weingarten connect?" Arthur interrupts.
Eames smiles up at him. "Well, that's what I'm here to find out, isn't it?"
The first time Arthur touched Eames they were standing on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Eames had always liked D.C.-- so many criminals in such a small radius made him feel at home.
They were doing some preliminary reconnaissance on an assistant curator at the Smithsonian Gallery who had been spending a lot of time in the Gem exhibit looking at the Hope Diamond. Taking it out for cleaning. Putting it back. Taking it out again. It was the sort of behavior that would make any employer suspicious.
Personally if Eames were going to steal something from the Smithsonian he would've gone for something much more impressive like the Napoleon I Necklace which the emperor gave to Marie Louise. Or the Portuguese Diamond. The Hope Diamond was only forty-four carats. The Portuguese Diamond was a one hundred and twenty-seven. It seemed to be pretty basic maths -- which Eames was never bad at but just found tedious and boring.
Regardless of Eames' personal preferences, Dr. Anna Chu was certainly acting suspiciously. Unfortunately her behavior also came coupled with a healthy dose of paranoia.
After tracking her for two days, no one was more surprised than Eames and Arthur when, after a lunch date at the National Portrait Gallery, Dr. Chu actually paused in front of the building, turned around and looked back at them directly.
In a fit of inspiration –- or insanity -– Arthur took Eames' hand, pulled him down the stairs and right past Dr. Chu. And then, as they were waiting for the light to change at the corner of 7th and F, Arthur used their still joined hands to tug Eames toward him and kiss him firmly on the lips.
For at least thirty-eight seconds, Eames forgot about Anna Chu.
He also forgot not to close his eyes.
He even forgot he was working.
And then he opened his eyes and Arthur was watching him. "She bought it," he said against Eames' lips.
Eames made a noise in the back of his throat. "Yeah," he said, "so did I."
Eames has been to the Musée Rodin eleven times. He's a fan. So is his mother. When he was in school she brought him to Paris twice a year to visit his Aunt Daphne and his cousins Emil and Manon. A visit to see the work of her favorite sculptor was always a part of the agenda.
Since Dr. Weingarten is in closed-door meetings all day, Eames has a chance to take a few hours off. He takes the Metro to Invalides and walks the rest of the way to the Hôtel Biron to sit in the garden.
Rodin lived at the Hôtel Biron from 1908 until his death in 1917 and donated all of his work to the hotel. The garden the hotel created to help show off the works is an oval landscape of horticultural perfection.
Eames finds a shaded seat by the Headless Hercules and just breathes. He inhales the flowers and the freshly cut grass; the smell of trees and flowers, people and little dogs. But mostly he just watches.
Eames has always been a watcher.
Of course this is when his mobile rings.
He would know this ring tone anywhere. "Bonjour, Maman."
"Es-tu en France?" his mother queries. She asks him if he's in France as though he speaks French anywhere else on the planet besides in France. Or in Haiti. Or in Martinque or French Polynesia. Or in most of continental Africa. Or Canada -- but not Quebec. Nothing against Quebecois, it's just not French.
Actually it is a rather valid question.
"Tu devrais rendre une visite à ta tante."
Eames has to laugh. He's working and his mother wants him to visit his aunt. "Je travaille," he reminds her. He should probably look up Emil and Manon while he's here though.
"Tu travailles trop," she says.
Eames looks up at the sun cascading through the trees overhead. The air is crisp, cool without being cold. The jacket he's wearing is keeping him warm and he's wearing his favorite cobalt-blue trainers.
He wriggles his toes in the confines of his socks.
Maybe he does work too much, but it doesn't feel like it. "J'aime mon boulot."
"Of course you like what you do," his mother switches over to English rather abruptly. Eames blinks at the pale-yellow butterflies hovering over the flowers nearby. "But you don't have to do it so much, do you? This cannot be about money."
"Mum," Eames warns.
There's a silence. His mother is preparing for something. This can't be good. She's worse than he is when she's got something on her mind.
"Arthur rings and you come. Should it be that way?"
Eames pinches his nose and closes his eyes briefly. "It's work."
"Not for you it isn't."
"Yes, it is." Eames opens his eyes and it's like the world is new all over again. Everything is the way it was before, but not.
"Does he come when you call?"
"He's not a Scottish Terrier."
"That is not what I meant."
"It works both ways."
This time Eames can hear his mother sigh. "Are you sure?" she says. "I just -– you should be happy. Are you happy?"
Eames thinks about this for a moment. Would Arthur come if he rang? Would Eames call in the first place? Is he happy? What does that even mean? Can you be happy? Isn't that just a by-product?
"I'm fine," he says.
It might even be true.
Eames' mother is responsible for Eames being a forger. Obviously this was unintentional on her part, but as a patroness of the arts, the Duchess was constantly running off to gallery openings and showings and special exhibits at The Tate, the V&A, the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and various other museums and private galleries.
Olivia Eames also had very strong feelings about nannies, having been raised by several herself. The words, "over my dead, bleeding corpse" were often mentioned before Eames was shipped off to Winchester College.
Thusly, in his formative years Eames' mother would take him along to various museums and walk him through exhibit after exhibit explaining about mummies and colonization, gold and Aztecs, African princes and Spanish pirates, Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese dynasties. She'd tell him stories that were so marvelous and tragic that they couldn't possibly be true.
Except they were.
Eames learned very early on that reality is much stranger than fiction.
And after these sweeping history lessons, Eames' mother would get him settled in some nook with paper and crayons and pencils while she went off to do what Duchesses do to raise funds for museums, and he would draw and draw. Fabulous drawings of sarcophagi and dragons and women with blue hair and Egyptian gods with bird heads.
And when Eames got tired of drawing with one hand he would switch to the other. His parents never made him choose which hand he had to write with. His parents never forced him to be one thing or the other.
Eames has always been a multitude of things because his parents taught him that that was how life was lived. In vast multitudes.
An individual can be whatever they want to whomever they want.
There is no such thing as the best place to find a croissant in Paris. That's like asking someone where the best place to find a baguette is. Or a fashionable woman. They are everywhere, it only requires leaving your hotel.
And sometimes not even that.
Eames has been terribly partial to staying at Hôtel Plaza Athénée Paris because of the Alain Ducasse restaurant on its ground floor. Today he ventures forth from the hotel and south down Avenue Montaigne. North is the fashion district and its multitude of easy marks; Eames tries not to tempt himself when he's still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and in the middle of a job.
Not that that's a hard and fast rule. In fact, perhaps the best way for him to wake up is to the pick the pocket of that greasy arsehole who's currently yelling at his girlfriend in the middle of the pavement.
Making a woman cry is deplorable.
Eames very deliberately brushes by said target and appropriates a wallet, a set of keys and –- he currently doesn't need this strip of condoms.
He pauses and turns back when the man glares at him. Eames cocks his head to the side, carefully concealing his prizes behind his back with his right hand, while considering his opponent.
Eames isn't a fighter. Actually, that's not true.
He would happily beat this man's head in if he so much as sneezed.
That must be apparent by the look on his face, because the man clears his throat and rolls back his shoulders. Eames looks very deliberately from the puffy-faced woman to the man. "Y a-t-il un problème?"
"Non," the woman mumbles.
Eames stares at the man, who seems to shrink the longer Eames considers him. "Non," the man repeats.
Their accents are atrocious. Definitely not French. Quite possibly English. Or Canadian. Or, god forbid, American.
Eames looks back at the woman for a moment. She has black hair pulled back in a chignon and is wearing a simple eggshell colored dress with nude flats. She looks lovely –- if you ignore her obvious distress. Eames does not tend to ignore those sorts of things. Despite her answer, it's clear that there is a problem.
"You're too pretty to cry," he says in English. "You can do better."
The woman is clearly startled; the man opens his mouth. Eames gives him a quelling look and winks at her before he turns around and continues on his way.
As he crosses the Pont de l'Alma he studies his latest score. He tosses the condoms and keys in the nearest rubbish bin and flips through the wallet. Eric Jackson Martin. From New Canaan, Connecticut. He just sounds like an arsehole.
But he has just made Eames seven hundred Euros richer, so there is that.
Eames dumps the wallet in the grass on the side of the bridge and turns down Avenue Rapp.
There are dozens of cafes and patisseries in the 7th Arrondissement.
The likelihood of Eames stumbling upon someone he knows at one of them is not quite minute, but only mildly likely. Unless the person happens to be Arthur, who actually lives in the Rive Gauche.
The redhead with Arthur, however, is surprising.
Eames licks his lips; it's a good mask for the tightening in his jaw and the sudden queasiness in his stomach. Both of which are uncalled for.
What Arthur's doing standing outside the slate-colored awning of Le Clos des Gourmets with some random woman is no business of his. It's Paris. It's the autumn. The weather is gorgeous. Eames is richer than Croesus, or at least rich enough for a rather nice breakfast.
Arthur wearing jeans and a white shirt that's wrinkled and not even tucked in is allowed. Highly unusual, but allowed. As is his mussed hair. The fact that he looks utterly undone. Like he's just been fucked six ways from Sunday.
Well, he is not Eames' property.
And then Arthur says something to the woman with him and she looks across the street and makes eye contact with Eames.
Oh, for fuck's sake.
He's caught now and has no choice but to go over there and exchange irritating pleasantries. The closer Eames gets to Arthur and his muse the worse his aggravation gets.
Of course Arthur would be shagging the most gorgeous woman Eames has seen in years. Crimson red hair, alabaster skin and bright blue eyes. A figure that would make Renoir weep.
Eames plasters on his broadest smile. He should've just stayed in the hotel and had room service. Perhaps started a fight with an annoying American. Oh, wait, that might still happen.
"If you wanted to have breakfast you could have just said so," he says by way of greeting. "You didn't have to stalk me." Arthur's mouth twitches; the woman smiles. "Are you going to introduce me to your enchanting companion?" Eames says.
Arthur rolls his eyes. The woman's grin deepens. "Sadie," she says, offering her hand. Another fucking American. What the hell is wrong with this city?
Eames kisses her hand. "Like The Beatles song?" he says, glancing up.
"You've met my parents, I see." Sadie's mouth twists in a wry smirk. Eames can't help but be a little charmed, unfortunately.
"Do you have complaints about your name?" Eames says, straightening up. "I'm sure it has to be less cumbersome on forms than something like Botticelli's Venus."
Sadie laughs. It's robust and delightful. Fine. Eames will only hate her a little bit.
"It could be worse," Eames says.
"Yes, your parents could name you Eames." Arthur interrupts.
A light goes on in Sadie's face, her smile broadening. "Ah."
Eames raises an eyebrow. "Have we met before? I feel I would remember that."
Sadie's eyes crinkle when she smiles. "I've heard about you."
Eames glances over at Arthur who's clearly about to say something.
"You have?" Eames speaks first.
Sadie tugs on the sleeve of the cornflower-blue dress she's wearing. "Yes, I suspect that's probably why Arthur and I aren't together anymore. He kept saying your name in bed."
Eames is gobsmacked.
Judging by the way Arthur's mouth is hanging slightly open, so is Arthur.
Sadie, on the other hand, apparently thinks this is the most hysterical thing ever.
"Please, tell me more," Eames says.
"Sadie, not another word," Arthur says sharply.
"We're not sleeping together anymore, Arthur. I am not obligated to keep confidences which could make you less repressed. I also don't have to suffer through your interminable silences because I made a mess in the kitchen." Sadie gives Arthur a cheeky smile and winks at Eames.
"He hates messes in the kitchen," she says to Eames conspiratorially.
"Tell me more," he says.
"Tell me why he came back from your business trip to Poland all those years ago and bought every book about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table he could get his hands on."
"This is why we're not together," Arthur huffs. "Your sense of humor is even more twisted than Eames'."
Eames studies Arthur's flushed cheeks and mussed hair. "I like her, can we keep her?"
After the Poland job, Eames took an express holiday on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica to collect himself in the nurturing bosom of humidity, white sand, large tropical drinks and the exquisite rooms provided by the Villa Caletas.
His first night, he got drunk. Exceedingly drunk.
His second night, he got drunk again.
At some point he doodled an intricate labyrinth which would become a tattoo on his shoulder, because that is how Eames reminds himself of his mistakes. Missions gone awry in the RM. Jobs where things turned out very badly indeed. Bullets dodged. Prisons avoided. That one time he ended up locked in the trunk of Toyota Camry as it went into Saylorville Lake outside Des Moines, Iowa.
Every tattoo is a memento of his passage through this life. He's designed them all himself. And every time he's been given another chance, he's got another tattoo. An ink-stained reminder to do things better next time, because no one is perfect. Everyone has flaws. Everyone makes mistakes. Eames tries to learn from his.
Three days, two meals with Sadie, drinks with his cousins, and several bottles of red wine later, Eames is back in London. Back in his second-floor flat in the converted school house off of Latchmere Road with the perfectly painted white brick walls, en suite bathroom with the heated towel rail, and the fourteen windows that convinced him that this property had to be his.
The sky is battleship grey, suggesting rain, and Eames is in his spare bedroom –- his art room – listening to Etta James and giving Jackson Pollock a run for his money.
Paint is flying everywhere, including onto Eames, which is why most of the room is covered with flat sheets. He's wearing his favorite Stone Roses t-shirt, which is ripped at the collar and has no hem to speak of.
The music is playing, he's picking up cans of paint by rote to splatter again the floor, but his mind is currently at 223 Willesden Lane, wondering if Geraldine Weingarten enjoyed this week's episode of Being Human and how long her mother-in-law will be visiting this time. Wondering how a woman who dreamed of being a producer for the Beeb wound up a schoolteacher. The daily responsibility for seventeen children certainly explains the lack of children in her marriage.
The only reason Eames realizes his mobile is ringing is because it's vibrating in his back pocket.
Some people don't have to text themselves reminders of dinner with their parents. Eames is not one of them.
"You're late," his mother says by way of greeting when he's finally made his way to South Kensington.
Eames kisses her on the cheek. "Hello, Mum," he says, brushing past her and stepping into the mews house off of Cromwell Road.
He shucks off his coat and is about to toss it over the oak banister but he can feel his mother's eyes on him. He looks over his shoulder. "This is not your house anymore," his mother chides. "Do not do that."
She holds out a hand for the jacket and gives him a very appraising once over. "You couldn't even clean up before dinner? Really, Alexander?"
Alexander is not Eames' given name, but a pet name his mother gave him after he declared, upon viewing a particularly scintillating exhibit at the British Museum, that he was going to be Alexander the Great when he grew up.
In his defense, he was seven when he said this.
Eames rubs at the week's worth of stubble on his cheek and looks down at his paint-splattered trousers. "I changed my shirt," he offers.
"The boy changed his shirt," his father's voice carries from somewhere behind Eames. "There was a time when we couldn't even get him to do that, Olivia."
Eames looks over his shoulder and grins at his father. "Your Grace."
Eames' father rolls his eyes. "This is your child," he says to his wife.
"And yet he looks just like you," Eames' mother says.
"Well I can't help that."
"I see, so you'd buy a Severini for just any bastard off of the street?"
"And that Basquiat you bought him doesn't count?"
"That was a leaving gift."
Eames holds up his hands. "Time out. Dad, you bought who a Severini?"
Henry Eames, the Fourteenth Duke of ___________, makes a face. "It was supposed to be a surprise, but your mother has ruined it, just as she's ruined you."
"Yes, I can see how ruining a child with culture and adoration and support and love could be seen as a vile business," his mother says thoughtfully. "Darling, I'm sorry that I've taught you to be yourself and think for yourself. Surely it's better to be a repressed automaton than a human being."
Eames has to laugh.
"I win," his mother says.
"You cheated," his father complains.
"You bought him a painting."
"I can buy my own paintings now," Eames interjects.
"Don't be ungrateful," his parents reply.
Everything Eames knows about relationships he's learned from his parents, who like to quote Shakespeare in regard to living with someone you love, "For never two such kingdoms did contend without much fall of blood."
Only Eames' parents would quote Henry V as a love story.
Geraldine Weingarten's year four students are visiting the Victoria & Albert Museum, which works well for Eames because it's his favorite. Mrs. Weingarten's children are utterly fascinated by the Peter Rabbit exhibit. Even Eames is a little charmed. There's a Raphael exhibit he'd like to see while he's here, and that exhibit of photos from New Society, but since he's working, probably not.
Eames' mobile vibrates in his pocket while the children are studying several sketches of Peter and Mr. McGregor contemplating each other thoughtfully. Eames quite likes the sketches; maybe when Jasper and Imani have their first child, he'll procure one for them.
Eames walks toward the south-east corner of the room to take the call.
"Arthur," he says by way of greeting, his back to the corner so he can keep an eye on the entire room.
"Where are you?"
"On a field trip with seventeen eight-year-olds who are studying Beatrix Potter."
"I hadn't heard from you."
"And you thought I was off debauching jail-bait and squandering the family inheritance instead of working."
"You have been known to hit the tables."
"I've also been known to wear pink paisley, that doesn't mean it's all I do."
Across the hall, Geraldine is tugging at the sleeve of her grey cotton jumper. The color -– or lack thereof –- totally washes her out. Eames wishes she would put on something blue. Or green. Eames freely admits his love for color, but Geraldine would be so much more fetching if she just put some thought into her appearance. He'd really like to incept an idea or two into her head.
There's a moment of silence. "Did you ever send my regards to your mother?" Arthur says.
"I didn't think you were serious."
"I'm always serious."
"That is an excellent point," Eames agrees, watching as Jonathan (yellow name tag) sticks his finger up Brian's nose (orange name tag). That's special. "You are always very serious. Except when you're not."
Eames can sense Arthur trying not to smile. His mouth is probably twitching precariously. Arthur has a tremendous sense of humor; it's just very dry. "How's it going?" Arthur says.
"Would you put your finger up someone else's nose as a sign of affection?"
"Would I what?"
"No, you wouldn't, would you? Hygiene and all that."
Geraldine seems to be having a similar conversation with Brian and Jonathan.
"Are you all right?" Arthur asks.
"We need to get together soon," Arthur says.
"Missed me, have you?"
"Something like that."
"I'll come by the warehouse this evening. Say around six."
"I'll see you then."
Eames ends the call and goes back to work.
Eames left the University of Edinburgh with a double first in psychology and art history -- and propensity for pissing at various holes of the Liberton Golf Club and nicking things at any Boots in his vicinity.
Art was Eames' first love, and it turned out everyone significant in the history of art happened to be insane, whether by drugs or broken hearts or syphilis or repression, so Eames took up psychology to be able to diagnose things better. He had no idea what he planned to do with either degree, which was how he ended up in the Royal Marines.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Several days later Geraldine and Michael Weingarten are having drinks with Michael's mother at an All Bar One on Kingsway after a morning spent at the Camden Market. It's a lovely Sunday in London, and they're sitting outside on the pavement drinking lager and enjoying a conversation which Eames could only term "stilted."
Eames is sitting at the Caffe Nero across the street waiting for his lunch date. To pass the time he's brought along a sketch pad and some charcoals. He uses the heel of his hand to smear the lines he's drawn on Geraldine face.
Eames looks up at Arthur and his mouth curls at the corners. "Of course I am now that you're here."
Arthur's lips twitch with amusement as he pulls out a chair and sits down. "What are you doing?"
Eames pushes a bottle of water and an orange he bought for Arthur across the table. "Studying the subject."
Arthur shifts his chair closer, picks up his water and untwists the cap. He's not crowding Eames, but he's certainly in his personal space. Not that Eames has a very good concept of personal space, which is what happens when you have seven first cousins.
Eames tamps down on the urge to swoon when Arthur lifts his hand away from the edge of the paper. Arthur's fingers are warm, dry.
"You're getting charcoal everywhere," Arthur says, gesturing to the black smears on Eames' forearm and the rolled-up sleeves of his canary yellow shirt.
Arthur licks his lips. He's still touching Eames. So far it's been sixteen seconds.
"So, what do you think?"
Arthur raises an eyebrow.
Eames smirks. "There's something wrong there but I can't quite sort out what it is."
This isn't strictly true, but Eames doesn't like to show his hand early.
"Isn't that what you're getting paid for?" Arthur finally lets Eames' wrist go. It's been twenty-nine seconds.
"No, that's what we're getting paid for," Eames corrects.
"Tell me what you know."
"You mean what I think I know."
Arthur's chin juts out just that little bit. He's wearing a camel-colored jumper over his shirt today and no tie. By Arthurian standards he's practically naked. "Tell me what you know."
"Geraldine is the youngest of two. She graduated from Bristol University with Upper Second-Class Honors in English. She wanted to work for the BBC but her mother fell ill and Geraldine moved home to Cornwall to take care of her, because her sister was off gallivanting around Australia. By the time her mother had passed away, Geraldine," Eames pauses, looking for the right words.
Arthur's forehead furrows. "She what?" he prompts.
"She was tired."
"People get tired sometimes," Eames says. "It's what happens. Life wears you down."
Arthur's face softens. "So where does the good doctor come into this?"
"She'd known him at university; she'd actually dated his best mate. She came to London and they sort of fell in together, like you do. I don't think this is the life she wanted, but it's the one she has. It's understandable."
"Not everyone gets the life they want, Arthur."
Arthur's face is very still, but his eyes are speaking multitudes. "Is this the life you wanted?"
Eames looks across the street at the rounded hunch of Geraldine's back and shrugs. "Everyone has complaints."
Arthur's hand is very close to Eames'. He only notices this because the tips of Arthur's fingers brush against his knuckles when he pulls away.
"So, what are we doing here?" Arthur says.
"We're going to give Geraldine a second chance," Eames says. "We're going to give her the life she wanted to have."
"Eames, we're extracting from him," Arthur says. His tone is light, soothing. "You can't help her."
"The only way to get to him is through her," Eames explains. "This is what you pay me for."
Arthur's staring at Eames very intently; it would be unsettling, but Eames doesn't have anything to hide at the moment. Apparently Arthur sees this because he nods his head and then sets a brown carrier bag from Any Amount of Books on the table. "What'd you bring me?" Eames says, poking at the bag.
Arthur bites his lip, but his smile is evident. "What makes you think I brought you something?"
Eames pushes his sketchbook onto the table and grabs the bag. The paper book is slim, compact. "Candide?" Eames says with a delighted laugh.
"You have something against Voltaire?"
"Hardly," Eames says, handing the book over to Arthur. "I assume it's in French."
"I certainly hope so."
"Good," Eames says, going back to his sketchpad. "Read it to me."
"You're very demanding."
Eames makes a derisory noise. "Look who's talking."
Eames was raised to think for himself. To study a situation from every possible angle. To read not just the person, but the history underneath. To think hard about what he said and what he did and why he did it. Eames is, was, and will always be a cerebral person. The Royal Marines did not want thinkers. They wanted malleable brains. The RM believed in breaking down to build back up. It was a clash of ideals from the minute Eames arrived in Lympstone, but for the most part, he loved it. Loved the camaraderie and the creativity, the attention to detail and the team building. But he hated the orders. He was shit with orders. But he loved his men. But it wasn't for him. The amusing part is that when his Captain had him transferred from infantry to the EDP (Exploratory Dreamshare Programme) he thought he was demoting Eames in some way.
At some point Eames will have to hunt down Captain Michael Perkins and thank him.