Eames had always felt empty.
No matter how much he ate, whom he loved, or the amount of money in his pocket he always felt an aching need deep down in his center. He felt like he hadn’t eat in weeks, like he was hallow, devoid of something intrinsic to the human experience. Even from a young age he knew that when other children were off finding themselves, becoming who they were, he was missing something. So he started taking their things.
At first a gesture, a movement, a gate as they walked. This boy’s habit of touching his lips when he grinned. That girls tendency to pop her hip out when she stood a certain way. This boy’s taste for creative words and his quick use of them.
When he was a little older he started taking their actual things, reaching out when no one was looking to snatch a toy, a pen, a picture. The first time he paid for it, the second time he remembered those words, soft and silky like his father’s ties, and they poured out of him like honey in his teacher’s ear. Each lie was easier then the last, each so perilously close to the truth that it began to seem true itself. Each one sticking in the back of his mind like a bookmark to be saved and called on later.
By the time he was in secondary school it had become second nature, to take things, to take people. The way that boy leaned back in his chair, always with his legs open when he was bored. How his friend, the gambler, always slipped a coin back and forth along his knuckles. The way that older boy leaned in close and the younger girl swooned. That older boy’s wallet as he focused a little too much on that younger girl. He saw the way people looked at the boys and girls in his school who were happy, always laughing and being the center of attention and he took it from them. He was always smiling even when they looked away, he was always leaning in and they were always swooning.
The day he told his mother he wouldn’t be following in his father’s footsteps was the day he took the pieces of her broken heart. They weren’t so old, he had a brother, a sister, they could carry on in the family name. He took the leash and the money his mother gave him and ran with them. He took the freedom of the homeless man, the reckless abandon of youth, and he took himself from their world.
One year later in a small room in Mombasa he took the feather lite touch of a woman’s hand and left her standing alone, and in his confusion at not wanting what he clearly could have he took the drink offered by a strange man and found himself looking over the abyss.
He took the word as his own, called himself a dreamer. The old man said he had a talent and he could teach him something about it, the Indian man said he had charm and he was sure he could put that to use selling something. He smiled as he took the offer.
They asked what they should call him, Eames, he took the name of his father’s favorite chair. They asked where he was from and he took the address of his closest friend. They showed him how to project someone else in the dream and he took the shape of his favorite primary school teacher. He took the vials of compounds the Indian man gave him and he learned. He took years of the older man’s life, he took the Indian man’s trust, he gave them nothing but the charming facade they expected, the smiles and laughter he’d practiced for so long now. When the old man retired he took on the name of ‘Forger’, he took the meaning behind it and he added his own. Not just a thief, not just a projection, but a Forger.
The first time he met Arthur he took the man’s hair, slicking his own back in a poor mockery of what Arthur’s had been. He’d never had so much trouble taking something from someone as he did that little piece of Arthur. The second time he met him he’d grown a little more, taken a few more things. A love of blazers in soft, thin fabrics, a taste for gambling from the old man, a tendency to poke fun at what people said. This time he took his calm under fire, be it bullets or otherwise. Then he met Cobb and he took his passion, his belief in the possibilities.
When they all came together again the world had taken Cobb’s wife, the dream his mind, but Arthur was only missing those pieces Eames had pried loose.
He liked prying parts of Arthur loose.
They worked together and every day he took a little more. He cracked that calm exterior by taking specificity, he took the way talked and the words he used, it was worth a shot. He took the black suit and jacket on the plane with his own dark clothes and added red, which he had taken from Ariadne. He took the shirt Arthur wore to use in the first dream. The more of Arthur he took the more of Arthur he found, until finally he offered something of himself.
The first time in years anything that he actually felt or thought came bubbling up, concern about the security in the hotel. He gave Arthur that small piece of himself and Arthur gave him a smile. When they woke up he saw the look, his look from the cab, plastered on Arthur’s face and he didn’t take it back.
At the airport he took a trolly for his one bag, he offered to share it with Arthur who declined. He took the long way to the front for a cab and Arthur took it with him. He rode to the nearest, decent hotel and Arthur rode with him, and he took Arthur’s will to go and kept him there. He and Arthur got a two room suite and Arthur gave him a glowing smile in the main room, and he took it and kept it in the back of his mind with his lies.
That week he took Arthur, when Arthur came to his room at night and gave himself to him. He took every moment like a greedy child picking up toys. Over the following months he took every piece of Arthur that the man would let him have, a smile, a kiss, a finger running along the tattoos he’d taken from men in the bowls of London. Each and every bit he took he collected somewhere in himself, he didn’t use them the way he used all the other pieces of himself, he kept them stored away where only he could find them so they couldn’t be taken from him.
It was years later, well after he’d stopped moving and settled in with Arthur in London, well after he’d taken a dozen other jobs, well after he’d taken everything he could from Arthur and still stuck around that he realized something.
He hadn’t felt empty since that plane ride, since that calm, cool demeanor, since he’d taken that hair. He realized as he walked down the street, hand in hand with the other man as Arthur carried on about something and didn’t look at anyone else to even try and take something, that he had no reason to. He didn’t need to take anything more because everything he was he’d already given to Arthur, and Arthur had already let him take it back.
Eames didn’t feel empty anymore.