When Mal leans into his office and asks Eames what he did to his back, he can't exactly say, "the new graphics intern," so he says, "Oh, just stress, love."
She gives him one of those looks that indicates she sees right through him, but makes a considering noise and ducks out of the doorway of his office again, leaving just a cloud of Shalimar and skepticism.
He spends the rest of the day lying flat across the slouchy leather couch he'd had shipped from his last firm into his new office. The LEED certified lighting and wall of windows make it impossible to see any of the papers he's holding over his head, and his arm gets really tired, and overall, it's a pretty useless day that doesn't get any better when Peter, simpering, drops by in the evening with Chinese take-out and visions of domesticity in his slightly-not-as-beautiful brown eyes.
"Look, it's not you, it's me," Eames tells him, still lying on his back. From this vantage point, Peter's tear and snot-soaked face is even more hideous — fascinating. "Really. It was lovely and very special. But I'm not good enough for you. Our love can never be."
"You whore asshole," Peter says, and dumps a carton of still-hot chow mein on Eames's face.
Later, totally ignoring the fact that the sign on the door says men's room and the fact that Eames is in there delicately making certain Peter's little fit hasn't given him third-degree burns all over his face, Mal bursts in, swearing violently.
"Non!" she shrieks at him, pointing, and ignoring the way Nelson from copy has more or less castrated himself he's zipped his trousers up so quickly. "Non, Eames! No more! I am so angry with you!"
He freezes. "I didn't do it," Eames says, reflexively.
"Peter is weeping in my office!" Mal yells at him, the bright red spots on her cheek very fetching.
Eames is struck, briefly, with an acute attack of conscience. "Christ — look, I'll talk to him, sorry, I didn't mean to upset — "
"I do not care that he is upset," Mal continues, and Nelson starts inching out of the bathroom, hugging the wall and looking terrified, which Eames thinks is sort of tired given the fact that this sort of thing happens on average about once a month at Cobb + Cobb. "Peter could cry forever and I would not care if he was not going to quit and take with him all of his InDesign proficiency!"
"Right," Eames agrees. It's a particularly awkward situation, since of course the reason it had been so easy to seduce Peter was because he'd been working overtime on Eames's upcoming pitch. "I'll just — "
"You will do nothing," Mal intones, warning. "You will get a new hobby — a hobby that does not involve using our interns like a convenient brothel."
The next morning, Eames finds a pale gray business card on the closed lid of his MacBook. On one side, in transitional sans-serif is lettered Inception Yoga, the other side has a phone number, website, and nothing else.
His desk phone bleeps at him, and he answers, "Eames."
"Go to a class," Mal instructs. "It will expend some of your energy."
Eames looks up, disbelieving, through the glass wall of his office, past the island of low cubicles, and through the glass wall of Mal's office all of 23 seconds walk from his own.
"I don't see how yoga is going to help with a largely sex related issue," Eames answers, dry as tinder. "And did you really need to call me for this?"
"I refuse to be seen associating with you publicly, it's bad enough that it's common knowledge we're friends socially," Mal answers, flip, her brown curls in her face as she leafs through some proofs on her desk, the sun giving her a gorgeous gold halo against the New York skyline. "And this yoga studio will help with your sex related issue."
Eames cocks an eyebrow. "Is this one of those yoga studios that gives happy endings?"
"I would pay vast, vast quantities of money for you to go to that location and say that to the receptionist," Mal says seriously over the phone.
It's right then that Dom leans into Eames's office, looking constipated.
"Don't," he warns.
Eames ignores him. "How much money?" he asks Mal.
"Eames," Dom says, "seriously — don't — "
"I will buy you many prostitutes," Mal promises.
" — that is Arthur's yoga studio," Dom concludes, clearly torn between glaring at Eames and then back at his wife.
Eames narrows his eyes at Mal, who just sparkles her own back at him.
"Mallorie Cobb, if you wanted me killed, there are easier ways," he snaps at her.
"Oh, but this is so much more entertaining," she coos.
"Well," Eames sniffs, "I will not torture myself for your amusement."
"Right, I'm here for a yoga class?" Eames says, three hours later, standing at the sleekly desaturated reception desk at Inception Yoga. There's an exquisite vase — hand made, Japanese, if Eames is right — with a single plum branch in it, and it matches the willowy girl with bleach-blond hair and eyelashes perched delicately behind the counter in a gray twill sheath dress.
"Of course," she allows, eyes flicking toward a discreet computer monitor. "Did you book a class time?"
Eames glances around reception, at the very respectable reproduction Auerbachs and Kandinskys and wonders if all yoga studios look like this, or if it's just that Arthur's yoga studio looks like this.
"The 7:30 with Arthur," he says. "On the website."
The girl looks at him with an arched brow. "Then you're very experienced, I imagine."
"Oh, very," Eames purrs, because he can't help himself, and she goes startlingly lovely when her cheeks go startlingly pink.
The girl, Alicia, makes the entire business of renting a mat and settling up for the course — which, as should be expected for Arthur, is extortionate, and Eames feels momentarily bitter this won't have a happy ending — a song, and is very agreeable to the way Eames is running the backs of his fingers along her wrist, smiling at him coyly the entire time.
"Be careful," she warns, still smiling. "Arthur's classes are always a bit rough."
"Stop it, you dirty bitch, I'm feeling faint," Eames warns, feeling faint.
She waves him off, laughing, and Eames detours to the locker rooms.
Because Eames is desperate, unsubtle, and vain, he's been very careful to design his outfit for this latest assault on the fortress of Arthur's virtue. It's a clever combination of rough trade — battered white wifebeater, a bit frayed at the hem — and posh — Lululemon men's yoga pants that had cost entirely too much, and that the newest intern had been very reluctant to go buy for him during her lunch break.
"I don't think this is part of my duties," Ariadne had argued.
"Ariadne, precious, as your boss — "
"Mr. Cobb is my boss," she'd contradicted.
" — go buy my fucking pants, Ariadne," Eames had finished, and she'd given him the stinkeye the entire time she'd been heading out of the office and until she'd hurled the shopping bag onto his desk.
Oh so creatively named studio 4 is at the end of a long and peacefully decorated corridor. Possibly, the small fortune Eames paid for 90 minutes of whatever asinine stretching Arthur is about to dole out has funded the narrow rock garden and the low footbridge Eames has to cross before reaching the class floor, where a half-dozen overly tense professionals have already gathered, each of them armed with loose clothing and multicolored yoga mats and Nalgene bottles of water.
"I've been practicing my sun salutation," one heavily-Botoxed woman says to another. They're basically indistinguishable from one another, their skin is pulled so tight, the same artfully highlighted blond hair and air of generalized uselessness.
"It's all right, Lauren, I'm sure you'll be great," the other one says, and the first just shudders, experiencing such intense fear it appears to almost make an expression cross her face.
"What if — " she starts, and the second woman hushes her.
"Don't think like that. You have to think positive," Woman #2 soothes.
Eames thinks it's fitting, of course, that Arthur's yoga classes are apparently an object lesson in psychological horror. He would expect nothing less from his darling.
He's mulling how attractively furious Arthur will be when he realizes Eames has shown up in his class when a back door opens and Arthur steps in, impeccable in a black t-shirt and loose gray pants.
"God," Arthur says to him, raising an eyebrow, "really?"
Eames just pulls his most shit-eating smile. "Mal said I have stress."
Rolling his eyes, Arthur says, "You should at least be in a beginner course."
"Firstly, I am insulted you think I'm not already perfectly proficient in this," Eames says, and at Arthur's unwavering glare, adds, "Besides which, you don't teach any beginner's courses — I already checked."
"Yeah, you're going to be a problem," Arthur says, and turning, he makes for the front of the room, clapping his hands together and calling out, "Everyone — take your positions."
Eames had known Dom and Mal from rubbing shoulders at industry events and finding himself head to head with Cobb + Cobb more than once for annual awards, and while he'd always respected them, they had an unfortunate habit of paying slightly less aggressively than Eames's other options. Mal had slithered up to him time and time over the years, offering up the prospect of their exciting work environment and thrilling projects, but it was a young firm and not quite so well-heeled, and Eames isn't the best at what he does because he's charitable.
Which is why he's always nursed a suspicion that she'd Shanghaied Arthur into attending the Cobb + Cobb Christmas party the year Eames had agreed to go, too, largely to position Arthur as a sacrificial offering cum office perk.
Eames had been on his third flute of champagne and third flirtatious but firm effort at convincing Mal he didn't want to leave his corner office six-figure-plus-bonus job to work for her charmingly quirky start-up when a boy with very beautiful brown eyes and slim hips had wandered up in dark jeans, a blazer, a massive coil of scarf around his neck, and snow in his hair.
"Oh, Arthur, thank goodness you made it after all," Mal had purred, and drawn him in for a kiss, unwinding the scarf from around Arthur's neck in a way that made it seem like Victorian burlesque to catch a glimpse of his white, white throat.
"It's blizzarding out," Arthur had answered, letting her right his collar, palm his cheek, flushed from cold. "You're lucky I managed to find a cab at all — the crosstown trains are totally fucked."
Mal had smiled at him indulgently, running a hand through his bangs, and turned him toward Eames, saying, "Eames — how rude of me, let me introduce Arthur."
"Eames? I've heard a lot about your work," Arthur had said politely, extending a hand, a small smile on his thin, pink mouth.
"How horrid," Eames had murmured, "as I've heard nothing about you," and probably it's telling of a larger character flaw, but honestly, it hadn't even occurred to him through the initial sunburst of lust and the lizard-brain haze of desire that taking Arthur's proffered hand and pressing a kiss across his knuckles might piss him off.
Later, when Dom is monitoring Eames soaking champagne out of his hair and dabbing it out of his jacket, he says, "Well, there goes any chance of you working for us, I guess."
"I'll be here tomorrow, 9 a.m.," Eames had promised, and grinned, manic, into the bathroom mirror, because for the two seconds before his eyes had started stinging from the bubbly, Arthur had been an absolute vision of righteous and incandescent fury and Eames has never liked anything better than an impossible challenge.
Being an incurable adrenaline junkie means that Eames has done a lot of regrettable and eventually painful things with his body, but there is the endorphin kick of snowboarding on unstable powder, the James Bond thrill of parkour, the dizzy concussed thud of rugby, and then there's whatever the fuck it is Arthur is doing.
Objectively, Eames knows that yoga is just expensive stretching, but in practice, what it means is that he's balanced in exquisite, fucking unending agony, trying to remember to hold his heels to the ground, keep his knees up, turn his thighs out — what? — and most of all: not to fall on his fucking face.
Eames is fit and he fucking knows it, but apparently his long years of running the stress out of his body and pick-up games of football have done nothing for his flexibility. When Arthur says — voice light — in the front of the room, that everyone should just fold themselves over in uttanasana, the shock of pain and his back's total boycott of participation is remarkable.
"Translation, Mr. Eames: touch your toes," Arthur murmurs, a smile in his voice.
"Yes, I'm doing that," Eames snipes in reply, and doesn't dare turn his head, because staring directly at the ground and making his fingertips brush the sticky-rubber mat Alicia had lent him is extremely taxing, and he doesn't think he can manage doing both that and staring at Arthur's knees.
Overhead, Arthur sighs. "You know this is an intermediate course, don't you?"
"Arthur, really, this much specialized attention? Someone might cry favoritism at this rate," Eames says, glaring at his own knees. Fuck his knees. They're bending, and he's pretty sure when Arthur had demonstrated this before he told everybody to hold the position, his knees had been ramrod straight and relaxed. Eames isn't sure; he had also been entertaining a number of supremely filthy mental images at the time.
"And breathe," Arthur tells him, and there's definitely a laugh in his voice now, and Eames is about to be pissed about that until he feels the warm touch of a hand on the back of his thigh, fingertips sliding in the well of his knees, and Arthur murmuring, "Loosen up your thighs — it'll help."
Eames has about a thousand sexy rejoinders to that, but then suddenly Arthur is gone, the warm presence of him absent, and from the corner of his eyes, Eames can see the familiar swish of his hips headed toward Woman #2, saying, "Mrs. Carlyle, what did I say about keeping your shoulders loose?"
An unintentional side benefit of being about two seconds away from passing out from oxygen deprivation and in screaming pain is that Eames is so distracted by the terribleness of this activity that he's utterly surprised when Arthur says:
"Class, good job — "
Everybody comes out of their poses, stretching and shaking themselves out, arms and legs loose, and Eames comes up first with hands on his knees, and then slowly extending out, feeling murderous and sore and —
" — on the warm-up exercises, now for the actual poses," Arthur is saying, at the front of the room.
"Shit," Eames says.
Arthur takes them from tadasana into utkatasana, from that into garudasana. He pauses in the middle for several more rounds of tadasana so everyone can catch their breath and feel their heels firm and rooted to the Earth. Eames barely has time to be grateful for it before Arthur is going into Warrior I — which has Eames going into a number of near-misses with gravity — and then Warrior III, his body as straight as a plank, looking utterly unperturbed. Eames reckons he's about 1.2 seconds away from falling down and strategically taking down the guy next to him when Arthur says:
"And bring the leg down, find your footing, let your heels connect with the ground — relax the back."
Eames does, feeling lightheaded with gratitude, sweat beading all over his face. Fuck this. This is the most sadistic stretching in the whole God damn world.
At the front of the room, Arthur says, "Now for something a bit more challenging."
"Oh, Eames," Mal says, her face appearing over him, long and sparkling earrings catching the light. Her hair is pinned back today and she's glowing with amusement.
The first night after Arthur's 90 minute psychosexual torture — there had been a point where he'd arched his back like a perfect bridge, and Eames had nearly moaned thinking about all the other things Arthur could do with a spine that flexible — wasn't actually that bad. Eames had gone home, popped two aspirin, made himself a G&T and passed out amid an ocean of proofs. Unfortunately for everybody he'd interact with for the rest of the day, Eames had woken up drooling across a color-print and in traction, possibly permanently disabled, and keenly aware of a remarkable number of aching muscle groups he was reasonably sure he'd never actually utilized before.
The backs of his knees hurt. How the hell did that even happen?
He'd made it to work under his own steam — translation: after a triple dose of Excedrin and a tumbler of sherry — and after 15 minutes of attempting to remain upright at his desk, he'd said, "Fuck it."
"Hello, gorgeous," Eames says to Mal, holding up a legal pad to track his mouse across and trying to read the contents of his computer monitor through the reflection on his glass-topped desk. "How can I help you today?"
Mal just purses her mouth. "Eames, why are you under your desk?"
"Well, I realized that the couch was a bit far for the mouse cord to reach, and so here I am," Eames says matter-of-fact, trying to decipher an email from their client that would probably be indecipherable even if he was sitting upright and wasn't trying to read in mirror script via a reflection.
"I really should have taken him seriously when Arthur called to tell me you'd gone and crippled yourself in his class yesterday," Mal sighs, and squats down, wrapping her hands around her knees and frowning at Eames. "Do you want me to get you a doctor?"
Eames pushes himself up on his elbows mostly through a combination of pure will and injured pride. "Truly, Mallorie, your precious darling Arthur thinks entirely too highly of himself," he scoffs. "I'm perfectly fine, just in a horizontal sort of mood."
Mal raises her eyebrows at him. "Oh? So I should tell him you'll be at his class tonight?"
Eames grits his teeth. Damn her.
"Of course," he says, purposefully light. "I would suffer far worse than a few sore muscles to watch Arthur contort himself in such a thoroughly wanton manner."
The truly terrible thing is that Eames really would suffer any number of indignities to have Arthur spread out underneath him, panting and flushed pink down his chest and down all his white and lovely limbs. In the two years Eames has worked at Cobb + Cobb, he's gone to dinners at Mal and Cobb's house and spent American Thanksgivings and Christmases there, watched Arthur and Dom fighting over cranberry sauce and if the kids were allowed to open a present on Christmas Eve. The whole business had started off, as most things with Eames do, with a spark of greedy lust, but Arthur was one of those impossibly complex riddles, and in the process of trying to untangle him Eames had been thoroughly ensnared in the complications. He wants to know why someone who graduated with such a stunning technical illustration portfolio fucked off to open a yoga studio instead, how Arthur met Mal and Dom, how come he smiles so widely and freely to so few people, and what Eames has to do to make Arthur smile at him, too. Eames wants Arthur to like him, to do ludicrous things for him, the way Arthur is forever doing ludicrous things for Mal, for Dom, and to come to Christmas parties through raging blizzards because Eames asks him to. Eames is good at what he does because he can read people, and he has this tantalizing idea that Arthur, once won, is won forever, and Eames can't think of any prize he's ever wanted more, and more desperately, than Arthur.
"No way," Arthur says, when Eames rocks up to his class later that night.
"I'm a paying customer, Arthur," Eames points out, laying out his yoga mat and ignoring the twinge in his back. Lying still all day had left him much improved and mostly mobile. "It's not as if you can throw me out of the course."
"I can and I will," Arthur promises, glowering at him, hands crossed over his chest. His bangs are flopping into his face in a crushingly adorable manner, and today, his t-shirt says University of Chicago Fine Arts; if Arthur wouldn't hit him for it, Eames would affect a swoon. "This class is way beyond your competency."
Eames flashes Arthur his most obnoxious and smarmy smile. "Come on, love, it's just a bit a stretching, I do a more thorough job during a post-coital yawn," he confides.
"Just for that," Arthur snaps at him, "we're starting with pigeon pose."
"I'm sure it'll be a lark," Eames coos in reply, because he can't help himself.
Pigeon pose, he realizes about 15 minutes later, is actually also called eka pada rajakapotasana, or in the language of Eames's people: pose designed to permanently injure cocks.
It involves starting in downward dog — Eames cannot believe Arthur has managed to suck the joy out of a sexual position so effectively — and bringing the right leg up into something Arthur calls "downdog split." Eames calls it fucking painful, but he grits his teeth and bears it, because of course in the front of the room, Arthur sails through all of it, as do the rest of his hippie evening advanced course, their bodies swaying through each position, muscles perfectly still and each of them breathing perfectly only in and out through their perfect fucking nostrils.
The class doesn't get much better after that, with Arthur murmuring incomprehensible animal names and demonstrating the poses gracefully at the front of the room. It's all Eames can do to keep up, mimic the poses the best he can, gasp quietly out of his mouth, keep the trembling in his arms and legs and back and stomach to a minimum and wait, wait for those perfect moments when Arthur drifts between them correcting poses, dropping politely devastating comments — and when Eames is very, very lucky, putting his hands on Eames's shoulders, his back, the small of his back, a hot, palm against his trembling stomach, saying, "Careful, Mr. Eames."
The ecstatic bliss of having Arthur's hands, and more importantly, his attention, fades by the time morning rolls around, and Eames takes three calls over his mobile phone where he's prone in bed, and calls out for the rest of the day to admit defeat in the arms of a professional. Unfortunately for him, the professional is Yusuf.
"I'm amazed," Yusuf says. "How did you manage to do this much damage?"
"I'm sore, not broken," Eames protests, but it takes him something like eight years to manage to straighten out on the exam table.
"Given how long it took you to change into the gown, I disagree," Yusuf mutters, and jerks Eames's shoulders around in a heartless and totally excruciating way for a few minutes or a couple of hours before asking, "Well? Did that help at all?"
Eames, who has bitten a neat row of angry toothmarks into the turquoise pleather of the table not covered by sterile paper, shouts, "Fucking no, Yusuf!"
"Well, my hands are tired," Yusuf says reasonably. "How about some weed instead."
Which is how he and Yusuf end up on the roof of Yusuf's bustling little practice — licensed in acupuncture, acupressure, massage and chiropractic therapy — in the East Village passing a joint back and forth, Eames's hospital gown flapping in the wind.
"I don't know why you didn't just start with this course of treatment," Eames mutters.
"I have a medical degree, I like to pretend to use it," Yusuf retorts, and liberates his tie clip to hold the roach, at which point Eames decides it's too downmarket to keep smoking the fucking thing and generously lets Yusuf at it, saying:
"You have a medical degree from Cambridge, which you choose to waste at an Eastern healing clinic."
Yusuf slants him a look. "It's a tragic prejudice of the Western medical monolith that everybody should be so ignorant of the long and effective history of — "
"Christ," Eames groans. "Spare me the lecture."
Yusuf grins. "So? Tell me, how did you fuck yourself up this badly?"
Eames lights a cigarette now, feeling woozy and numbed and too high to feel particularly depressed about anything. "Why do I ever fuck myself up badly?"
"Ah," Yusuf says, knowing. "Arthur."
"It's always Arthur," Eames mutters.
"Funny," Yusuf says, rolling another joint. "In all the years I've known you, through uni and everything, you were never one to get attached."
Eames snatches it from Yusuf as soon as the joint is lit. "Trust me," he mutters, taking a long and lingering drag, "nobody's more surprised than me."
Eames has always been well-liked and easygoing and utterly noncommittal, whether professionally, personally, or romantically, so of course the experience of running into the immovable object wrapped up in the irresistible force that is Arthur was like being run over by a fleet of gorgeous and tantalizingly flexible trains. He's never been short of lovers or friends or business, and this is the hardest he's ever had to work for something in his entire fucking life, like a Gordian knot that he can't stop picking away at even though he gives up sometimes and half-dates other people, picks up other hobbies, considers moving back to England — inevitably, always, he drifts back.
"How shameful to see the most infamous rake of our generation brought so low," Yusuf mourns, snatching the joint back and laughing. "Does your mother know?"
Eames shudders. "Christ, bite your tongue, Yusuf."
"Considering Arthur hasn't been delivered some sort of contract about his future feudal responsibilities as a viscountess, I will assume you've managed to keep her in the dark," Yusuf continues, breezy, and instead of coming up with a witty rejoinder, Eames picks up a piece of broken-off cement on the rooftop and hurls it at him.
Inception Yoga is closed on Friday nights, and weekends are dedicated to drop-in, all-level courses led by other, less interesting teachers, the website rota says. Eames, because he has sources, phones Alicia, who after just a few minutes of shameful flirting commits studio treason and admits that since Lem called out sick, Arthur is taking the Sunday matinee course, and then cheerfully signs him up for it, because when she decides to betray her nation, she apparently does it with gusto.
Or so Eames had assumed until he appeared in class on that lazy Sunday afternoon, having mostly recovered from the previous week's exertions, to find himself surrounded by a half-dozen smirking pregnant women.
"I owe Alicia $20," says one of them, with sweetly pink cheeks but clearly an evil disposition, "I swore to God she couldn't get you to show up."
Marveling, Eames says, "That bitch," because she is, and also, clearly amazing.
"You," one of the women says, inspecting him from all angles — Eames can't help but preen; at least someone is appreciating his careful half-rough trade, half-yogi ensemble, and it certainly helps that she's gorgeous — "are much, much more attractive than the other ones."
He clears his throat. "Other ones?" he asks.
"You're not the first one to try and win Arthur over by taking classes, you know," says another woman, with thin lips and carroty hair and heavily freckled skin. She's wearing a massive t-shirt and soft-looking pants and seems to be about a hundred years pregnant. "But you are probably one of the least subtle and most shameless."
"Thanks, love, really," Eames says, glowering at her, and is about to make his escape when he hears Arthur's voice from behind him saying:
"Jesus Christ, really?"
Six fecund women give Eames an expectant look, which is just the provocation he needs to put his courage to the sticking place. He pastes a big, shit-eating grin on his face, and wheels around on Arthur, who is looking even more ravishing than usual. His hair is a wreck, curling with his fringe in his eyes, a flush across his cheeks from the unseasonable cold, in loose pants and a Thundercats t-shirt.
"Darling, you're here, finally," he says, angling Arthur a leer.
"Finally, I have a legitimate reason to throw you out of a class," Arthur answers, the corner of his mouth tugging up in a way that makes Eames want to rent out penthouse suites in hotels so he can fuck Arthur against floor-to-ceiling windows. "This session is for expectant mothers only, Eames."
Batting his lashes, Eames says, "Oh, Arthur, I guess you haven't heard then — I've been cruelly used and left in a family way."
Arthur's mouth twitches again, and Eames layers in a few bolts of expensive champagne, a basket of strawberries, silk sheets. "A reprehensible man to be sure," he allows.
It's a shock to the system, because of all the ways Eames has imagined Arthur, he's never imagined Arthur would play with him, and he's half-giddy when he sighs:
"You have no idea, darling. However shall I cope as a single parent?"
The woman next to him bursts out laughing, and Arthur, eyes crinkling with something like genuine amusement, shakes his head and walks past Eames, toward the front of the room, smiling at the rest of his class and calling over his shoulder, "Then I suppose the very least I can do is let you stay for the class."
Eames has always suspected the women who attend Arthur's studio as being hardened bitches, and the knocked-up ones turn out true to form. Pre-natal yoga — even third trimester pre-natal yoga — is brutal on his spine, which is baffling because Arthur keeps talking about how the poses are supposed to help everybody open their hips. The class is a third of the size of a normal session, and Eames realizes, slouched sullenly into fucking pigeon pose again, why when he sees Arthur carefully helping every expectant mother into position, correcting her gently, and with a quiet firmness.
Arthur's hands are easy on their shoulders, their hips, and he's more invasive with touches than he is with his ordinary students, warm but still precise. And every time he says something, each of his students — he knows them all by name — turn toward him, taking his corrections with rueful smiles and leaning on him heavily. Eames can see the slender muscles on Arthur's arms bulge when he helps Maria perfect her triangle pose, when he eases Anthea's hips for Warrior II, and something about the easy and effortless strength of him makes Eames's mouth go dry.
Eames has been fortunate and shitty enough to have known and burned through a lot of good people in between the sheets, but he doesn't know that he's ever sparked with anyone as unrelentingly reliable as Arthur — who the six women in the room trust enough to touch the sides of their breasts and place his hands on their swollen bellies, who don't doubt he'll catch them if they slip.
"You should be acing all of these, Mr. Eames," Arthur scolds, when he winds to Eames's seafoam green yoga mat and frowns at his wobbly as hell ardha chandrasana, the block under Eames's left hand shaking like hell under his weight. "You're not even showing enough to be throwing off your balance yet."
Gritting his teeth, Eames says, "Largely, the difference is psychological."
Nor has Eames ever wanted someone so fucking bloody-minded before, either.
"I guess it has to be quite bracing to be abandoned," Arthur murmurs, and then he says, "I'm going to make a few adjustments — are you all right with that?"
Under ordinary circumstances, Eames has about a dozen off-the-cuff innuendoes for just this kind of opening, but it's a struggle not to fall flat on his face and embarrass himself in front of the pregnant women, so he just grunts assent.
"All right," Arthur says, and presses a warm, open-palmed hand to the small of Eames's back, slides it down, over the curve of his ass, as his other hand closes over Eames's hip and pulls it back, back, until his body is a vertical panel and all his muscles are screaming: his thigh, his arm, his shoulders, his chest, everything aching and he's barely breathing in an effort to hold the pose.
Near his ear, Arthur asks, "Do you feel that? Your hip opening up?"
"Mostly," Eames manages, "I feel pain."
Huffing a laugh, Arthur says, and keeps his hands where they are, "Don't worry, I won't let you fall, all right?" and Eames thinks, what the hell, and does, letting out a great and shaky exhale that makes his limbs flail a spastic moment.
But just as he's about to tip over, as he's about to go, he feels Arthur's slim chest behind him, against the line of his shoulders, propping him up, and it makes all his muscles go loose, instinctive, and for some reason it makes the fucking pose easier all at once.
"See?" Arthur asks him. "Feel how when you relax, you actually relax into the pose?"
"Actually," Eames says, voice trembling with renewed effort, "I think I'm relaxing into you."
Arthur laughs again, and Eames wishes he was certain enough of his balance to turn and see it — he wants to know if Arthur's eyes shine when he laughs, if he has dimples, if he shows all his teeth. "Well, that'll do for now," Arthur says, and keeping his hands on Eames, says, "All right — relax back into mountain."
Class ends without the usual two minutes of corpse pose since any effort to lie flat on one's back when that pregnant usually ends in tragedy. They all huddle cross-legged, and the session ends without the quiet serenity of the others, all the women quizzing Eames after Arthur glances at his watch and excuses himself, saying, "Eames, behave yourself, please," and Eames answering, "Whatever for? They're already all pregnant."
"So?" Anthea asks him, gray eyes curious. "What is it you do for a living?"
Eames grins at her. "Advertising, dearest — I'm in advertising."
The carroty-haired woman, Evelyn, makes a disapproving noise. "I think probably a doctor or lawyer or a teacher, someone steadier would be better for Arthur."
Marie nods in agreement, her full head of midnight-black corkscrew curls bouncing. "Seconded," she says, "but it appears he likes this one."
Delighted, Eames says, "Do you really think so?"
"Well," Anthea explains, "you are very appealingly sketchy looking."
"It's the tattoos," Marie elaborates, waving at his chest. "And the wifebeater. You look like a thug with secret feelings."
"So are we thinking that 'thug with secret feelings' is Arthur's type?" Eames asks.
Caroline, her dishwater blond hair pulled away from her face, looks serenely amused as she says, "Oh, almost certainly," and before Eames can do a little dance of triumph, she adds, "I mean, it's what his last four boyfriends looked like, too."
"Never have I ascended to such heights only to be kicked so brutally in the throat," Eames tells her bitterly.
His bad mood follows him into the locker room, into the shower where he jerks off angrily, and to the reception desk to return his yoga mat. He's still scowling when Arthur comes up to his side and asks, "Sore already?"
Alicia, wisely, doesn't say a word when Eames slaps a pen down on the counter, shoves his credit card at her.
"That can hardly be a surprise," Eames snaps, not looking, but he can feel Arthur stiffen.
There's a long silence while Alicia takes forever to process his payment, and finally Arthur says, his voice tense with something Eames doesn't recognize immediately, "If you're actually hurt, Eames, you need to tell me."
The look Alicia flashes Eames from the corner of her eyes is vicious, and even though the transaction is clearly processed on her computer monitor, she just keeps hold of his credit card like a well-trained harpy.
"Didn't know you cared," Eames says, first to Arthur, and then to Alicia, "I can see that the payment's gone through, you know — you have to give me back my Amex at some point."
And then the hands that had been easy and unfailing jerk him around, until Eames is staring, bewildered into Arthur's worried face, his eyes wide and searching. He's changed into a button-up black shirt and dark jeans, his hair still damp and curling across his forehead, and his face is red and skin freshly scrubbed, and Eames thinks that Arthur is the loveliest thing he's ever seen, right at this moment, right now.
"Where does it hurt?" Arthur asks, his voice flinty and his tone so pragmatic it makes Eames's toes curl. Arthur runs his hands down Eames's arms — feeling for what, Eames's doesn't know, only certain that it's making him hot and pliable, that the fit of cruel and reflexive jealousy he'd felt in the pit of his stomach is beginning to evaporate like steam in the early morning over the city. "If it's just muscle soreness, that's one thing, but if it's a sustained ache — I need to know."
Eames can't help but grin. "Actually, I'm particularly sore between the legs — "
"I'm serious, Eames," Arthur snaps at him, red spots on his cheeks. "This isn't funny. You need to take this seriously — you could be doing real damage to your spine — "
And Arthur's face is so distressed and angry it's all Eames can do to collect Arthur's hands, clutch them inside of his own, and doesn't give Arthur a chance to shout at him before he's bringing them up to his mouth, before Eames is pressing a kiss across the tightly furled fingers.
"Oh, darling, I'm sorry," Eames murmurs, mouth warm against the knuckles of Arthur's hands. "I'm just being a jealous twat."
Arthur just huffs, "What?" but he doesn't jerk his hands away, and Eames just presses his face against them, feels the skin of Arthur's hands against the ridge of his nose, smells the lemon soap from the locker rooms, ignores the way his heart is racing like a schoolboy's.
"Apparently you have a type," Eames mutters, because he used up all of his shamelessness for the pre-natal yoga class, and now absolutely everything coming out of his mouth feels mortifying. Or maybe it's just Arthur. Arthur makes Eames feel off-center and unbalanced, literally and figuratively and in perpetuity. "Apparently you've dated a lot of tattooed thugs."
Over his head, Arthur sighs, "Asher was a physical therapist."
Aghast, Eames looks up. "You dated someone named Asher?"
"Maybe I like ludicrous names," Arthur retorts, and he is smiling the world's smallest, most indulgent smile. "I've never known you to doubt your suit, Mr. Eames."
"Arthur," Eames tells him, "I just took a pre-natal yoga class. I am clearly willing to entertain far stupider things that just petty jealousy for you."
And the look that wins him is actually indescribable: intimate and unexpectedly sweet, and Eames feels a tangible flicker of Arthur yielding, his shoulders sloping, a curl sweeping across Arthur's eyes as he says, "So I begin to see."
It's then that Alicia, that absolute shit, clears her throat and says, "Mr. Eames? Your credit card?" which snaps the moment in two, and suddenly Arthur's hands are out of Eames's and he's just as composed as he always is, saying, "Good night, Mr. Eames," as he vanishes into the back office behind reception.
Eames scowls at Alicia. "You did that on purpose."
"Jealousy is an ugly, ugly look on you," Alicia replies tartly.
Snatching back his credit card, Eames says, "When I've tricked him into marrying me, part of our pre-nuptial agreement will involve firing you."
Looking supremely bored, she says, "Bring it."
It's unfortunate that the cloud of mostly euphoria on which he'd floated out of the Sunday class disguised a greater and more distressing underlying issue that didn't make itself apparent until Monday morning. Again, it's an act of supreme self-discipline to get to work, but once he's there, Eames doesn't even try to sit upright, electing instead of rally all the new hires and interns like a tiny army to rearrange his office.
It's actually working okay until Cobb shows up after lunch, looking harried and confused, and stops in the doorway, his squint even less attractive upside-down.
"Eames, what the hell," Cobb says.
"Did the Kraft people like the pitch?" Eames asks, casual as you like.
"They thought the cheese bit was too sexual," Cobb answers reflexively before saying, "Eames, what the hell are you doing?"
"There are laws stating you have to make reasonable accommodations for people with differing needs in the workplace," Eames says.
Cobb looks around the room, at the ad-hoc digital set-up that's projecting Eames's computer monitor onto his ceiling, the pillows that are tucked under his back, his legs kicked up onto his desk-chair, his suit jacket pillowed under his neck, the mouse cord trailing out of the back of his computer monitor, now shoved into a corner to allow him to reach everything, keyboard resting flat across Eames's stomach.
"This is the worst, most disruptive crush you've ever had," Cobb tells him. "I almost wish you were back to raiding our intern pool."
Eames sighs. "While that would be easier and less painful for my back, Mal's contrived to hire only ugly, dull ones this time around — except for Ariadne, who is very poorly pretending to be too religious to have sex with me."
"Ugly and dull has never stopped you from fucking our interns before," Dom says thoughtfully. "This is something else."
Squawking, Eames says, "Dominic Cobb! I'll have you know I have standards."
Ignoring him entirely, Dom muses, "Is it possible that you're actually serious about Arthur?"
"I don't think this conversation is workplace appropriate," Eames says, because he'd rather do the pigeon pose for an hour than talk about his feelings with Dom fucking Cobb. "I feel extremely harassed."
This is when Mal pokes her head into the doorway, frowning.
"Eames," she demands. "Did you go to pregnant lady yoga last night?"
And for another week, in its own strange way, things go swimmingly, with Eames selecting the least-challenging classes at Inception he can locate and Alicia slowly moving her allegiance from deceptively compliant to less-hostile to neutral. Arthur smiles at Eames, so many times that Eames actually loses count, and before the Wednesday intermediate hatha course, when Eames snatches Arthur's wrist and says, "Hungry work, all of this asinine stretching — how about a bite after?" Arthur dimples at him, and says, "I guess that depends on how well you perform, Mr. Eames."
It's apparently just the right incentive for Eames to get stupidly ambitious about the whole thing, and he's always been constitutionally incapable of resisting an unintentional dare, always that kid who got himself in trouble trying to impress all the prettiest boys and girls in class.
So it's really no surprise when, despite Arthur's, "Eames, don't even think about it," from the front of the room, Eames takes advantage of Arthurs' momentary distraction to try crow pose anyway.
The fact that he eats it — hard — against the polished wood floor of the studio is pretty much inevitable.
Eames's last truly cogent thought is of Arthur's furious and frightened-white face, eyes huge and mouth bloodless, staring down at Eames and saying, "What the hell were you thinking?"
Eames has always suspected Arthur of being one of those people who responds poorly to unexpected surprises, so of course he is surly and bitchy and a heinous companion the entire time it takes for Alicia to secure a cab, Arthur and three other people from the session to help Eames into it, and for the driver to find his way to the nearest emergency room. The wait — it's a short one, bless Wednesday nights — is silent and miserable. Three separate times, Eames thinks about arguing with Arthur about him being in a hospital for something as teeny tiny as a bruise on the head, but every time he opens his mouth Arthur stops whatever Eames is thinking about saying mid-syllable with a terrifying look.
Even more terribly, of course Arthur is eventually vindicated when Dr. Ronson smirks and says, "Congratulations, Mr. Eames — you have a concussion."
"Does that mean we can't do dinner tonight?" Eames asks Arthur, focusing immediately on the more important possible consequences.
Looking murderous, Arthur says, "That means you're banned from yoga henceforth."
"Frankly, I'm surprised you want to eat at all," Dr. Ronson says, musing. "You might be feeling a little nau — "
Eames chooses this moment to lean over and throw up all over Arthur's shoes.
" — seated," the doctor concludes, faltering.
Gasping, Eames clutches at the railings on the hospital cot. "Maybe a raincheck on dinner, then, darling," he manages in between huffs.
"I truly, truly hate you, Eames," Arthur tells him.
Instead of the witty rejoinder Eames has on the tip of his tongue, his response involves dry heaving. Heartless, Arthur just sticks a kidney-shaped plastic basin under Eames's face and starts talking to Dr. Ronson in his most bloodless, just-the-facts-ma'am tones, which Eames recognizes from the chaotic shitshow of a Cobb family Thanksgiving party before Arthur rolls up with a defrosted turkey and enough organizational force to whip the Afghani police into order.
They end up in another cab, trapped in late evening traffic up 2nd Avenue toward Eames's charmingly sprawling flat in Yorkville, a stone's throw away the river, cloaked in the orange-dark quiet of a weeknight in what passes for a residential zone in Manhattan. Jason, the doorman, is an angel, and helps Arthur help Eames out of the cab and into the lift, and Eames can't even enjoy it when Arthur digs his hand into Eames's pockets for the keys and lets them inside.
Eames is good at what he does because of his rich fantasy life, but he'd never considered that the first time he would manage to trick Arthur into his flat late at night it would be heavily concussed, still sick to his stomach, and with Arthur wearing a pair of sneakers they'd fetched out of the hospital lost and found. He lets Arthur lay him down on his bed and stares at his ceiling and thinks that Arthur will probably never, never fuck him.
He rolls onto his side with a lurch, but after a few moments of regret at that decision, the world stills again back to a constant, baseline throbbing in his head. He squints and sees the soto light of the rest of his apartment, sees Arthur's outline getting larger and closer, and then he's murmuring, "Hey — do you think you can sit up?"
Eames doesn't, or probably he doesn't try that hard, because it means Arthur's hands are on Eames again, helping him up enough so that Arthur can press two aspirin into Eames's mouth and hold a cup to his lips. His head still hurts with extreme prejudice, but it's hard to stay completely mad when it gets him pressed up against the slender line of Arthur's chest, his temple pressed against the wing of Arthur's collarbone — and Arthur smells like coffee and ballpoint pen ink, as practical and ordinary and completely wonderful as he looks.
He wants to make a lot of purring comments about how that makes him feel better already, but even if the spirit is willing, the cognitive function is concussed, and he lets Arthur help him back horizontal on the bed without any comment at all.
"You're strangely distressing this way," Arthur whispers to him, his eyes two black and gleaming river stones in the dim light of the bedroom. "Too quiet."
Eames dredges up a smile for him. "You're going to regret having expressed that sentiment to me one day very soon, darling."
"Oh," Arthur answers, light and nearly smiling, Eames thinks, "don't I know it."
This is the closest Eames has gotten to anywhere with Arthur in the entire time he's known the man, and a sudden, very humbling urgency wells up in Eames's chest to think that they're on the brink of something and he might miss it. He reaches out, fingers searching, and he grabs a fistful of Arthur's jacket, pulled hurriedly over his t-shirt, and curls his fingers into the well-loved brown leather, holds Arthur tight.
"Stay the night," Eames says.
Arthur's almost-smile transforms into a real one. "You have a grade two concussion, Eames."
"Be gentle with me, then," Eames answers seriously.
Instead of a riposte, Arthur's answer is to run a hand over Eames's forehead carefully, as careful as Arthur had been with Evelyn and Maria and Caroline, eyes searching for something on Eames's face.
"How are you so sure?" Arthur asks softly. "About me?"
Eames blinks slowly. "What do you mean?"
Slanting his eyes away, Arthur murmurs, "Mal says you're in love with me."
"Of course I am," Eames says, matter-of-fact. He's never said as much out loud, but he's always thought he was obvious and that Arthur wasn't so blind to his own charms to delude himself completely on the subject — and anyway, the subject of Eames's affections is writ large on their shared history, as obvious as a mural or mountain range and as instinctive as the urge to look before leaping.
Arthur frowns. "But how do you know?" he asks, obviously frustrated, like he's spent some time circling this question like a dangerous animal. "How can you — we don't even know each other that well. You don't know anything about me."
Eames doesn't believe in love at first sight, exactly, but he does believe that you know in that first instant, that something shivers through the ether and closes like a fist over the heart, jerks it for your attention. He thinks about that first night in New York City, that grim and gray-snowed Christmas, Arthur's dimples appearing as Mal unwrapped him from his scarf, the shitty top 40s holiday music piped over the office intercom and the budget champagne in Cobb + Cobb's humbler, years-ago headquarters in West Midtown. He thinks about that tug in his chest, that inexplicable spark in the back of his throat like a flare, and how he'd known nothing about Arthur except that he'd wanted to know Arthur, and how every day since has been the slow archeology of more things to love, more things to hold close and inspect with unembarrassed delight.
"But I want to know everything about you," Eames says, because it's the best answer he has, and the words make Arthur look lost and terribly young. He asks, "Arthur?"
"You're an absurd person, Eames," Arthur says to him in a hush.
Eames grins. "Blame it on my concussion if you want," he offers, generous.
"Go to sleep, Mr. Eames," Arthur says, and reaches over to turn out the bedside light.
The morning after is pretty terrible, and Eames has had a lot of terrible morning-afters. His head has mostly stopped hurting, but the secession of the headache and nausea means that the crushing humiliation can seep in. He staggers out of bed and into his kitchen trying to remember what happened between hurling all over Arthur's shoes — Jesus fucking Christ — and this awful moment right now and —
And Arthur is in the kitchen.
His eyes are only half-opened and he's smacking Eames's electric kettle like it's going to produce coffee if he hits it hard enough, and Arthur's hair is a ludicrous riot of curls and cowlicks sticking up in every possible direction. He's in yesterday's clothes and barefoot on the cold tile of the kitchen floor, and Eames feels that shudder in his chest again, like being drawn to magnetic north.
"Oh," Eames hears himself say. "You stayed."
Arthur darts a look over to him, still mostly asleep and utterly rumpled-looking.
"The doctor said you needed to be monitored for 24 hours," he mumbles, and goes back to glaring at the kettle. "Where do you put the coffee in this thing?"
Eames sweeps over to Arthur's left, to the cupboard where he keeps a French press and some coffee for philistines, and Arthur promptly snatches them out of Eames's hands.
"That's an electric kettle, love," he explains, pressing the button and biting his lip when Arthur stares at its hissing, sputtering shakes with deep suspicion. He clears his throat and asks, because he's already ruined a pair of Arthur's probably-couture shoes, and why not?, "But you didn't stay just because the doctor said, did you?"
Arthur yawns, too exaggerated to be real. "Your couch is awful."
That Eames passes up the cheap shot of saying Arthur could have slept in the bed is a sign of his seriousness, and to underline it, he takes the coffee away. "Arthur."
The expression that wins him from Arthur can only be described as "mulish," but Eames grew up among the landed gentry and convinces people to spend money on things they don't need professionally. He's wanted Arthur for years, through long months without a single sighting of him, through every time Mal's mentioned a new boyfriend, through that time Arthur had thrown a can of cranberry jelly at him — even though Eames concussed himself in a fucking intermediate yoga class and the closest he's is going to get to an emotional revelation is by extorting it out of Arthur by withholding coffee.
"Eames," Arthur says, glaring.
"Arthur," Eames retorts, but his mouth is twitching because Arthur is blushing, pink flaring out across the smooth lines of his pale cheeks, and Eames adds that to the ever-expanding archive of things he finds worth loving. He files it away next to Arthur's dimples and fascist need to conduct holiday gatherings like a military exercise.
Arthur looks like he wants to concuss Eames again. "Eames."
Eames holds the coffee out the opened window over his sink in warning.
"Jesus Christ," Arthur swears, curling his fingers into Eames's t-shirt, jerks him away from the window. He says, "Fine — no, no, the doctor's not why I stayed."
Eames gives him back the coffee, grinning like an idiot. "Was that so hard, darling?"
Deadpan, Arthur says, "It was excruciating."
"Arthur," Eames says with equal seriousness, "I did pigeon pose for you."
The smile Arthur's been repressing breaks through, and the hand still curled into Eames's t-shirt drags Eames closer, erasing the space between them. Eames is still concussed, and his head still hurts a little, so he's not entirely committed to the idea that this is reality, but Arthur's smile across Arthur's lips is getting closer and closer, and Arthur says, "And you were terrible at it," just before he seals their mouths together.
Thursday's a wash since he's still concussed, and Friday Eames agrees to stay in bed if Arthur joins him there. It's a most excellent plan until Arthur derails it by refusing to engage in intercourse with someone who may have a brain injury, so instead they lie on their bellies side by side with the bedroom windows open and have one of those rambling, aimless conversations that winds and winds like a narrow lane among the hedgerows. Eames asks Arthur how he met Mal, why he abandoned architecture for expensive and extremely sadistic body contortion. Arthur asks how Eames abandoned horsey culture and over-enunciating his vowels for advertising, and if it's true that he keeps scaring away all of Cobb + Cobb's interns with his penis. Eames talks about a particularly stubborn branding project, and Arthur fishes a pen off of the bedside table and draws all over the back of Eames's hand, and when it starts raining outside they order enough pizza for a small army from Patsy's and eat it on a week-old copy of the Post, which Eames buys largely so he can feel superior to Americans.
"So?" Arthur asks, when it's dark outside and it's quiet between them, one of those languid and comfortable silences. "What do you think?"
Eames blinks, lazy and so content it's weighing down all his limbs. "What do you mean?"
"You said you wanted to know me," Arthur replies. "Now you do, better anyway — do you still think you're in love with me?"
"Darling," Eames says, because it's both mind-boggling and a stroke of luck someone as remarkable as Arthur is so wholly unschooled about desire, that Eames gets to settle here and stake a claim, "the point wasn't that I would love you if your answers measured up, you know."
Arthur arches one dark brow, and it's so terribly charming Eames shoves a pizza box out of the way and climbs over him, pins Arthur's wrists down on the bed and watches the way Arthur watches him, considering, a flicker of heat in his eyes.
"Oh?" Arthur asks. "What was the point then?"
"The point," Eames tells him, swaying lower, until their noses are brushing together, until he's saying the words against the bow of Arthur's mouth, "is that I do love you, and so I want to know you."
Arthur stares up at him, silent for a long time before he says, "When I was a senior in college, one of my professors said I either had to go to a yoga class or take anger management or he'd fail me on principle."
Eames grins at him, wolfish. "Oh, Arthur."
"It was a group project," Arthur argues. "My team was morons."
"But you found your calling," Eames protests.
Arthur laughs. "Well, either that, or I'm just a sadist."
"Given that you've been lounging spineless in my bed all day like the tremendous cocktease you are, I'm not ruling that out," Eames returns, and looking almost contrite, Arthur throws a long, limber thigh over Eames's hip, dragging him down, until their hips are rolling together, and Eames is so close to the blazing heat of Arthur's smile he feels immolated by it, and Arthur says:
"That, Mr. Eames, we can fix."
The next time Mal leans into Eames's office to ask what he's done to his back, Eames just smiles at her serenely, since on the subject of being gentlemanly and in the context of Arthur, Eames would never kiss and tell.