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"Hit me, darling," Eames says, leaning over the diner counter.

Arthur considers taking that request literally. And then he carefully shuts his menu and says, "Egg-white omelette with spinach, and a side of turkey sausage."

"That's terribly shocking -- why do you insist on doing these things to my heart first thing in the morning?" Eames says, and his accent seems to be even stronger when he's being sarcastic. Which is most of the time.

Arthur refuses to feel defensive. "I can't be the only person in this world who has the same breakfast every day."

"French toast, pancakes, steak and eggs -- I could make you anything in the world, pet, but no. Egg-white omelette, morning after morning. It shows a distinct lack of imagination."

"It shows a basic concern for my suits continuing to fit," Arthur says without heat.

Eames rakes his eyes down Arthur's body, as though he can see the fit of Arthur's suit below the counter. "Well, I can't argue with you there. Your suits do fit exceptionally well."

Arthur narrows his eyes at him. It is very, very early in the morning, and he's not sure he's awake enough for this yet. He's not sure he'll ever be awake enough for this. "Paper, please. And more coffee."

Eames takes out a newspaper from behind the counter, still pristine and unread, and fills up Arthur's cup. "I do love it when you're bossy," he says happily, and Arthur rolls his eyes and starts to read the front page.

***

Arthur's job necessitates being into the office at an obscene hour. His colleagues all remark on how Arthur seems remarkably alert when he arrives, precisely on time, but he would be neither on time nor awake without his morning trip to the diner next to his train station. He has his morning routine down to a careful science -- he wakes up, he showers and dresses, he walks down the block and he slides into the seat at the diner counter that is always open and waiting for him. There are relatively few people in at that time, a few regulars, and occasionally a group who has come in for refuge and grease after a night of clubbing.

Eames pours him a cup of coffee without asking, although he always gives Arthur the menu, which Arthur dutifully peruses before shutting it and handing it back.

Eames waggles his eyebrows. "Feel like engaging in some personal growth today?"

"Egg-white omelette with spinach," Arthur says.

"And a side of turkey sausage," Eames completes with a sigh. "Must you, darling?"

"I wonder that you can keep customers if you insist on harassing them about their orders," Arthur says, frowning a little.

"Now, now, I only harass you," Eames says. "You can't think that I have anyone on the side, you know I'm absolutely steadfast in my devotion."

"Paper. Coffee," Arthur says, and Eames provides both with a small smile teasing the corners of his mouth.

***

Arthur is very, very attached to his routine. He wakes up, he goes to the diner, he eats his breakfast and reads the paper, and he goes to work. Eames occupies a good part of his morning routine, but while the chatter varies, Eames always has his food ready in short order, and always takes care of Arthur at the register in a timely fashion. Arthur appreciates efficiency.

"Rough night?" Eames greets him sympathetically.

"Mnnrgh," Arthur says, making some effort at acting like an adult human being, but not entirely sure he is succeeding. "I'm going to work overtime forever," he mutters morosely.

"Not forever, surely," Eames says.

"I'm going to die," Arthur moans, because he doesn't have to be the voice of reason and responsibility in front of Eames, who likely would have no use for either, anyway.

"Chin up, darling, you'll make it," Eames says soothingly, and pours him coffee and hands him the paper.

Arthur gets all the way to work before he realizes that Eames never handed him a menu, and he never actually ordered, but he got his usual breakfast anyway.

***

"Tell me, love, what do you do for a living?" Eames asks one morning before handing over the paper.

"I work for hedge fund," Arthur lies easily. He lies about it so often, he barely thinks about it anymore.

"Do you, now," Eames says, and it take Arthur a second to realize that Eames doesn't believe him, not one bit.

"Why did you open a diner?" Arthur asks, after half-halfheartedly reading part of an article.

"I'm a retired international thief, and decided to use my last cut to go on the metaphorically straight and narrow," Eames says breezily.

Arthur squints at him warily and takes a long swallow of coffee. "How's that working out for you?"

"Well," Eames says, putting a plate in front of Arthur, "I get to make you eggs now, just as you like. It's a substantial plus in favor of honest work."

"I thought you said my breakfast was boring," Arthur says.

"Your breakfast, yes. You, darling? Never," Eames says, and then heads off to take someone else's order at the other end of the counter.

***

A few weeks later, it's pandemonium in the diner. It's Friday morning, and every drunk asshole who closed out the bars and clubs is in Eames' diner. Arthur takes one step in the door, and thinks about just turning around and going into the office earlier, except that he's hungry and undercaffeinated, and besides, Eames catches his eye and points firmly at Arthur's usual seat.

"Sorry for the row, darling," Eames says, having to speak a little louder to make himself heard. Arthur clutches his cup of coffee and tries not to think about murdering everyone else in the place who is upsetting his careful, quiet routine. "The usual?"

Arthur nods, and Eames bustles off to deal with Asshole Table #3 while his beleaguered waitress copes with Tables #1 and #2.

He's so disturbed by the commotion that he neglects to realize there is no newspaper in front of him until Eames come back with more coffee, and says, "Bugger. I forgot the paper this morning, darling -- I'll be just a tick." And before Arthur can say anything to that, Eames circles around the counter and steps outside, sliding a few coins into the machine and taking out a fresh copy of the newspaper.

When he hands it to Arthur, Arthur looks at him, confused. "You buy the paper every morning?"

"I buy the paper for you every morning," Eames corrects. "Can I talk you into a pancake, at least? I think you're going to float away."

"No, thank you," Arthur says automatically, which he hopes covers his surprise that Eames has been contributing to his morning routine even more than Arthur had guessed.

Eames unnecessarily tops off his coffee again, and Arthur tries to concentrate on reading the newspaper and mostly fails.

***

Either Eames is not a retired international thief, or he was so good that there's no record of him and no gossip from Arthur's sources that can identify him. Arthur can't believe how much time he's spent looking into it, already. Also, there is the part where Eames owns a diner and is probably just messing with Arthur because he enjoys it.

When Eames hands him the paper now, though, Arthur says, "Thank you," and takes it gently from Eames, instead of yanking it away ungratefully like he used to.

"Perfectly welcome, pet," Eames says warmly.

He used to think that everyone who came into the diner was subject to Eames' relentless barrage of endearments, but aside from the occasional "love" directed at small children and women over the age of seventy, Arthur appears to be the sole target of all of Eames' verbal affections.

"Best get on with it, darling, or you'll miss your train," Eames says, when Arthur becomes too engrossed in an article in the paper and forgets the time. "Not that I object to spending more time with you, but I know it upsets you something terrible when your schedule is off."

"Oh," Arthur says, startled. He looks at his watch and hastily takes out his wallet.

Eames puts one hand over his. "You can take care of it tomorrow. Go on."

Arthur stares at him in surprise, but then he hears the rumbling of the train and says, "Tomorrow, then," and flashes Eames a grateful smile before walking swiftly out the door.

***

Arthur just completed a long, complex assignment the day before, and is faced with the unusual situation of going into the office with absolutely nothing to do. He's sure he'll find something to occupy himself, but for the moment, he feels remarkably unfettered.

"Good morning," Eames says, and smiles softly at him. It's unlike his usual bright smile for customers -- it's understated and intimate, and Arthur has realized that it's just for him.

"Morning," Arthur says, and sits down on the counter stool with a bit of a bounce to his step.

"You're looking even more devastatingly handsome than usual this morning. What put such a radiant smile on your face?" Eames asks, leaning over the counter.

"A job well-done," Arthur says.

"I'm not surprised at all. I'd expect nothing less of you, Arthur darling."

Eames rarely employs his name, and Arthur has never offered it, although of course he has paid with a credit card from time to time, so Eames knew what it was. There is something about hearing his name, though, used sparingly among Eames' customary endearments, that does something absolutely treacherous to Arthur's insides.

"What will it be this morning?" Eames asks, expression full of tolerant good humor.

"French toast. With strawberries," Arthur says.

Eames laughs at that, a long, low chuckle. "You don't have anything to prove to me, love. Have your staid breakfast if you want."

"But I don't. I want to try something new," Arthur says, and from the look in Eames' eyes, he's pretty sure they're both not just talking about food.

"Then I'll be just a minute," Eames says, punctuating the sentence by tapping Arthur's shoulder gently with the newspaper before handing it over.

When Eames sets the plate down in front of him, it's a tidy, beautiful arrangement of golden triangles and red, red strawberries, decorated with an artful sprinkling of powdered sugar. And while Eames generally lets him eat his breakfast in relative peace, this time he stays to watch Arthur carefully.

"You're making me nervous," Arthur says, cutting off a piece and pairing it with part of a strawberry.

"Well, you have no idea what you're making me," Eames says, and watches Arthur take a bite, chew carefully, and swallow. "Well? Don't keep me in suspense, darling. How is it?"

"It's sin on a plate," Arthur says matter-of-factly.

"If you think that's sin, darling, you've less imagination than I thought," Eames says. He plucks a strawberry off Arthur's plate and twirls it in a bit of maple syrup before sucking it off between those ridiculously sensual lips.

Arthur realizes his mouth is hanging open and shuts it abruptly, and then makes a decision.

***

"Sorry, we're closing," Eames says without looking up.

It's mid-afternoon, and Arthur says, "I know."

Eames looks up then, plainly startled. "Well, this is unexpected."

"I may not have much of an imagination, as you say, but sometimes I have some pretty good ideas," Arthur says, wandering up slowly to the counter.

"Oh, do tell, darling."

Arthur takes a look around the empty diner, already dark and wiped down. He's thought of nothing else all day, and he's not going to back down now. "Come home with me, Mr. Eames."

Eames stares at him for one long moment, and then reaches across the counter, seizes Arthur's tie, and pulls him forward into a long, slow, messy kiss so full of promise that Arthur hardly knows if they're going to make the walk down the block to his apartment. When they break apart, they're both panting for breath, and taking their measure of each other.

Eames says, "Well, I do so enjoy taking your orders, darling -- I hope you won't mind taking a few of mine for a change."

"Make me," Arthur says casually, and turns around on his heel to walk out the door.

Eames is right behind him, turning the sign and locking up, and Arthur had rather expected to walk quickly to his apartment. Instead, Eames tucks Arthur's hand in the crook of his elbow and they walk slowly down the street. "We're not on a schedule, pet," Eames says. "I only get you for twenty minutes every morning. You'll have to pardon me for wanting to take my time with you this afternoon."

"Oh," Arthur says, surprised and suffused with a feeling he can't readily identify, but one look at Eames' face when they arrive on his doorstep and he knows, suddenly.

In the five minute walk to his apartment, the same one he takes every morning to the diner but in reverse, Arthur falls in love.