"Steady on," Eames murmurs against his ear as danger looms large and impossible above them. Ignoring even the barest hints of propriety and their current predicament, Eames pats him on the ass like that is some kind of comfort.
Arthur, standing in the shadow of what was sure to be his demise, shivers just slightly, even though his sleeves are rolled up as a concession to the midmorning sun pounding heavily down upon them. "This is the worst idea ever," Arthur says with all the conviction of a television preacher, just as Eames snaps his forty-second photograph of the day with his camera phone. "This won't end well." And the worst part is that he doesn't even mean for Eames' BlackBerry.
"Come now, Arthur, I never took you for a coward." Eames laughs, tucks his chin into Arthur's shoulder and reaches out to take a photo of them both, his hand pressing against Arthur's temple to tilt their heads together.
Ariadne bumps into Eames, and knocks them even closer together with the single most insincere oops that Arthur has heard since he was in high school.
Arthur really wishes he was armed. She's off before he can even threaten her properly, nearly tackling Yusuf from behind. Yusuf laughs when she steals a piece of his cotton candy.
"We have got to stop indulging her," Arthur says, because someone has to be the responsible one and clearly no one else is going to step up to the plate. Yusuf offers her another bite, and Eames hooks his thumbs into Arthur's front pockets. "Look she's already getting used to it. We've spoiled her, Eames."
"I was hoping it wouldn't have to come to this." Eames sighs. It's hot against the already sweat-damp skin of Arthur's neck. "If you play nice today, Arthur, we'll find the house of mirrors, and lock everyone else out for at least twenty minutes. I will give you the head of your dreams, I swear it."
"We aren't dreaming, asshole," Arthur says. He elbows him, but it's lacking most of its usual fervor. He eyes the rest of the fair warily, and tries to be rational about the pros and cons. It's admittedly difficult to be rational about Eames' mouth though. The entire place is one gigantic crowd, and already they've lost the rest of their team. Arthur puts his chances of survival without committing homicide in the single digits. "Fine," he says, finally. "Fine, but I am only in this for the blow job."
"Of course, of course," Eames soothes, and takes another picture with their cheeks smushed together. "Don't worry, I'll protect you from the clowns."
"Oh, fuck you--" Arthur starts, just as a class of third graders in matching red t-shirts walk by them, with a teacher who could probably get a better paying gig as the definition of scandalized.
He can barely hear Eames laughing over the screaming children, and the carnival rides. There are half a dozen vans and booths just in his line of sight that are all advertising a different deep fried snack food. The last kid in line, licking powdered sugar off the fingers of one hand, tries to lift Eames' wallet, while talking too loudly to his line-buddy about how he can totally beat the duck shooter game, douchebag, he practiced with Grand Theft Auto.
The teacher doesn't even look back when the kid shouts in protest when Eames grabs his arm before he can even get a hand near Eames' pocket. The line-buddy scrambles on with wide eyes.
Arthur despairs of the future of humanity.
"Let go," the kid shouts, while entire throngs of people just walk on by and avoid their eyes. Arthur adds crowded fair grounds to his mental list of good places for snatching a mark, while Eames crouches down in front of the kid and smiles, shark-like, showing all of his teeth.
Eames is wearing a horrible orange patterned polo that Arthur would burn, honestly, if it weren't for the way it stretches around his shoulders, his arms, giving just the hit of his ink. He'd got aviator shades that hide his eyes, and a lit cigarette from out of nowhere. Arthur forgets, sometimes, in all the ill-tailored suits and pastels, that Eames can look dangerous.
"Do you know," Eames asks the kid, still with that smile, "who else is terribly good with a gun?"
The kid looks ready to cry. His hands grip into fists and release again, over and over. His collar is stretched out, and his hair cut too short for his face. He shakes his head hard and fast. Arthur would bet the contents of his wallet that this kid is more afraid of what his parents will do to him than what Eames could.
Eames snorts, not amused, but like a bull that's ready to charge. And Arthur would almost smile, really, if he weren't just a little bit pissed at the fact that Eames is having to act like a thug. It's never been the role that's suited him best. Eames takes a drag of his cigarette, long and slow, and blows the smoke away from them without taking his eyes off the kid. "Cops, I think, have to be pretty decent with a weapon."
It's probably the right tactic, all things told. Eames may not be able to dress himself half the time, or make a decent cup of anything before eleven in the morning; but put him in a roomful of people and he'll know exactly how to get what he wants from every single one of them. Arthur knows this better than anyone. Arthur is almost always in the room. He admires this more than he will ever, ever admit, even under the pain of torture.
But sometimes, well, sometimes that's just not enough.
Arthur puts a hand on Eames' shoulder. He doesn't crouch down, stays standing and takes full advantage of the height difference to look down. Arthur's collar is starched, and his gun is locked in a safe hidden with the spare tire in their rental. He's never acted like a thug because he's never needed to. He doesn't have the muscle that Eames does, doesn't have that smile that can make a grown man cower in fear. He's still got a pretty impressive tool in his arsenal though. "I," he says, dry and truthful, "am incredibly good with a gun."
"And you'll understand, won't you," Eames asks the kid, smile slipping finally, "if his hands are the only ones allowed in my pants without some serious repercussions."
Arthur raises an eyebrow. "And unlike your parents, I won't ground you."
"Wh-What would you do?" the kid asks. He tries to raise his chin, and it trembles. Arthur is sad, really, that the kid has been so misled in life.
"You ever watch Dateline?" Arthur asks, instead of answering. Predictably, the kid shakes his head. "Forensic Files? Unsolved Mysteries?" Arthur tsks, just the way his mother always used to, and is appalled with himself. Eames releases the kid, just as Arthur says, "You should turn off your Xbox once in a while, see what else life—or at the very least basic cable—has to offer."
The kid runs off, hopefully to his class and not security, or a real kidnapping. Eames drops his chin onto Arthur's shoulder, and Arthur shrugs it off.
"You are a rubbish recruiter," Eames says, finally, the corners of his mouth twisted upward. Like the beginning of a joke, like he knows Arthur isn't going to guess the punch line, not this time. "We could've had him in a life of crime in a minute." He tucks his fingertips back inside Arthur's front pocket to tug him a step closer.
"Don't say recruiter when your hand is in my pants, Eames. That's the most frightening thing some people can imagine."
Eames laughs, and Arthur can hear it this time, but that's okay. He curls his fingers around Arthur's wrist, instead. "We have just scared that boy straight, Arthur. We have preformed a service. Honestly, we should send his parents a bill. We'll charge less than the bond they'd have to take out for his third attempted robbery. It'll be an absolute steal."
"You know your life story is going to end with, 'and they never found the body,' don't you?" He snatches Eames' cigarette, when Eames starts tugging him on again, but he also follows along, so he's pretty sure he's earned it.
"You are the most frightening thing I can imagine," Eames says over his shoulder. He stops mid-step, looking around like he can't decide which way to go. "Thirty minutes," he says decisively, take a left at the Tilt-a-Whirl, "for defending my honor."
"Your logic is flawed," Arthur says, out of habit more than anything. They pass by a booth selling oversized bottles of what is promised to be ice cold beer, and Eames doesn't even slow down. Arthur sighs. "You'd have to have honor for someone to defend it."
"Well, it wouldn't be me," Arthur says, rolling his eyes. He twists his wrist to get Eames to let go, but the crowd starts getting thicker, and Arthur ends up lacing their fingers together just so they don't get separated. Eames' palm is sweating. "I don't even like you all that much," he tells Eames' back.
"Oh," Eames says, looking back, licking his bottom lip all promisingly, "don't I know the truth of that statement." He tugs at Arthur's hand again, until they're side by side, but he doesn't let go. "Let's go find the shooting games, and see if you can live up to my dreams, hm?"
"I'm not winning you a stuffed animal."
"Can't or won't."
Arthur can already feel the back of his neck going red from the sun. Their shoulders bump with every other step. "Won't."
"We'll see." Eames is grinning, again, like he knows something and thinks it's adorable that Arthur doesn't. They are seriously never going to find his body. He squeezes Arthur's hand, and Arthur thinks about what he could do with thirty minutes in a house of mirrors.
"Why?" Arthur asks again, over a shared lunch of fried beer and a gallon-sized paper cup of overly sweetened lemonade. There's nowhere to sit, really, so he's holding the deep fried Guinness, the grease filtering through the paper basket to his fingers. Eames is holding the lemonade, a teddy bear tucked into the crook of his arm.
Arthur despairs of his life, a little. Probably less than before someone brought the combination of pretzel and beer into his life, though he will go to his grave without ever making that confession.
Eames presses the sweating cup to the back of Arthur's neck, like it'll take away the sting there at all. He's grinning, still, like he's won an award he didn't know he was nominated for. "You won it for me," he says, smug.
"I won," Arthur says, for at least the seventeenth time, "that doesn't mean I won for you."
"Who else would you have won for?"
"You are aware that she's at least ten years older than you are, yes?"
"Age is just a number, completely meaningless when it comes to a love like mine and Claudia's, Eames." Arthur nudges Eames left with his elbow, where like a miracle a bench is free. "Don't be an ageist dick."
Eames laughs, pulling the lemonade back to take a drink. He licks at his bottom lip when he's done fully aware of the way Arthur's always going to track that movement, because he's an asshole and he likes the attention. "How long have we been sleeping together, Arthur?" he asks sudden and soft, smiling fondly, patiently.
"Eleven months," Arthur answers, before he can think it through. It's actually more like eleven months and two and a half weeks, but he doesn't want to add any more fuel to Eames' fire. It's not like he keeps track or anything. He's just good with dates. It's a helpful trait on the job and when it comes to not forgetting to call his mother on her birthday. He sits and stretches out his feet, and doesn't even kick Eames because Cobb thinks it's fucking hilarious to slip Eames domestic violence pamphlets when he can pretend he doesn't know Arthur is watching.
Eames just smiles, settling beside him, his legs stretched out. He looks away and Arthur turns his foot, so the toes of their shoes bump into each other. He swipes the lemonade, and drops the basket onto Eames' thigh. Maybe, if there really is good in the world, the grease will seep through enough to ruin those fucking pants.
There's a steady stream of people going by, enough to be a distraction or keep Eames' entertained for hours. Eames puts the bear between them, and snaps a picture that makes it look like it's holding the basket.
Arthur takes a drink, the lemonade so sweet it just makes him thirstier. It just makes him want more. He licks the front of his teeth, unused to feeling it's left behind, and scowls. Eames snaps a picture of that, too, grinning, his thumb pressed to where Arthur's eyebrows are drawn sharply down.
"Look, how could I resist him, when you two look so much alike?" Eames says, and Arthur knocks their feet again, like very lazy bumper cars. Eames doesn't even try to get away.
They go on the Zero Gravity ride six times, and Arthur doesn't even want to consider how much Eames had to bribe the fifteen year old running it let them stay on through each round of people getting on and off. But Eames has been unsteady on his feet since the fourth time around, and Arthur can't stop laughing.
"I could totally kick your ass in here," he shouts over the screaming kids and grinding gears and obnoxious music, grinning so wide it's starting to ache. He shifts against the wall to push his shoulder into Eames, and if it's because Eames is looking a little bit green, well, no one can prove a thing. Not a single thing.
Eames laughs with him, shaky and too fond, too soft around the mouth, around the eyes when he looks at Arthur and says, "When you were a tyke, after getting tucked into your Star Wars sheets at night, you dreamed of being a ninja astronaut, didn't you?"
"Don't be ridiculous." Arthur snags the teddy bear from Eames' white-knuckled grip, and holds it to the other side of him, because he never outgrew a good game of keep away. "I wanted to be a cowboy librarian."
"There would be no late fees on your watch, Sheriff," Eames says, with a terrible Western cowboy twang and a sigh that's borderline dreamy. He waits for a second, and swallows hard. "Guns and books. Aren't you going to burst into song for me? Come on, darling, give me a demonstration of your best Julie Andrews."
Arthur pushes away from the wall again to kick him, palm pressed against his ribs. "I could give you a demonstration of my Glock," he says, trying to bite down his smile so he can pull off threatening.
"Oh, Arthur, we both know I'm well aware of how to work your co—"
"Move along, little doggie," Arthur interrupts drily, hitting Eames' in the face with the forehead of his stupid blue bear. It's the gentlest headbutt ever.
Eames grunts, barely even trying to pretend like he's anything other than entirely too pleased with himself. He swats at Arthur's wrist, then tries to grab for it again when Arthur pulls away, goes back to his game while Eames chuckles.
"Okay," Arthur says, when the ride is over and people start unloading again. Eames goes to take a step now that it doesn't feel like fighting gravity enough to take flight and his knees fucking tremble. Arthur laughs, again, harder. He laughs and says, "Let's go again," and really it's mostly just to see if Eames will.
"Fuck, fuck, you are demented," Eames tells him, shaking his head. He goes to take another step and falls into Arthur chest to chest, pushes him against the wall and holds him there with his weight. "My legs feel like jelly," he says, because he's an asshole who is never going to let Arthur forget the first time they slept together.
Arthur nips at Eames' chin, quick and mostly painless. He hooks his thumb through Eames' belt loop to keep him close, so he can nod at the attendant when he peeks in, looking pimply-faced and frustrated. Eames groans when Arthur slides his hand around to press against the small of his back.
Eames groans when the doors close and the gears start gearing. "Twenty minutes for you," he says into Arthur's neck, "you don't get rewarded for enjoying yourself."
"Who says I'm enjoying myself?" Arthur asks his hair, just to be stubborn, like it isn't going to take serious cosmetic surgery or a conversation with Cobb to wipe his smile away. "Hey, after this, let's get some pizza. I'm sure we can find it deep fried and on a stick."
"Arthur, love, you fucking sadist, there is every chance I am going to be sick all over your inappropriate footwear," Eames says, sounding delighted as the ride starts to spin again, empty save for the two of them.
"Don't be ridiculous," Arthur says as the ride pushes them closer together. "My footwear is always appropriate." He switches the hand he's holding the bear with behind Eames' back, and adjusts his watch, and ends up just kind of holding onto his own wrist. Behind Eames' back. For totally logical reasons.
He can feel Eames' smile against his neck.
Eames pays an obscene amount for a tiny tube of sunblock to smear across the back of Arthur's neck, and thick across his nose and cheeks while Arthur shoves at him and groans.
They eat giant slices of pizza and deep fried desserts, walking around the booths to judge all the infomercial products being shown. People standing in front of them like ring masters, giving live demonstrations in loud excited voices, and they stand in the back, making snide comments to each other and trying to talk each other out of buying every other one.
Eames walks away with a cowboy hat, and bracelet with wide, heavy wooden beads. Arthur orders industrial cleaner, and even gives them his real address.
They ride the rollercoaster, the Zipper, the Kamikaze, and the Slingshot. They ride water rides until Eames loses his hat and the sun starts to go down, and then they ride them again, soaking wet and pressing close to keep from shivering when the breeze picks up. And Eames snaps pictures at every single one.
Sometimes, he just gets Arthur, looking away, or making a face, or, once—when the sun was setting behind him and Eames was holding his sodden teddy bear in one hand—laughing, his hair wet and in too many directions, his shirt clinging to him, feeling better than he can remember. Sometimes he pulls Arthur in, tries to catch one of them together.
And if there's a picture on Eames' phone of them open eyed and grinning mid-kiss, holding on to the bar as the Tagada makes everything behind them blur, then it's not something anyone ever needs to know.
They don't find the rest of their team, and Arthur gets his fingers sticky eating cotton candy, leaning close when Eames' wraps an arm around his shoulders and pulls him in so they can share the sugar rush, as they ride in the back swan that's floating through the tunnel of love. There's a picture of that, too, a professionally taken glossy 8x10 they didn't know would be taken, the corner of Eames' eyes crinkled with his smile, his sugar-covered hand pressed against the side of Arthur's neck. Arthur shells out a truly ridiculous amount for it, just to make sure it never falls into the wrong hands.
And Arthur isn't slow on the uptake by any means. He makes his living outsmarting whoever is on the other side, whoever has what he wants. He's stayed alive through the military, and Cobb losing his mind, and Cobol, and a record breaking string of sixteen jobs going spectacularly shitty by being quicker than everyone around him. He can drop his team in zero gravity and still get everyone's lunch order just right, goddamn it.
They're on the Ferris wheel when Arthur gets it, finally. The lights of the fair are bright below them, as they get raised higher into the air, Eames still holding his stupid Care Bear and grinning, and Arthur finally figures out what he's been missing out on all day.
"Well, shit," he says, his face falling. Eames pauses for half a second, one arm of his stupid bear raised in a wave, and then he starts laughing long and hard and stupidly happy. "This wasn't Ariadne's idea at all, was it? This didn't have anything to do with her. This was all you."
Eames shakes his head, still laughing, patting Arthur's knee with one hand.
"Oh god," Arthur says, and he can feel the horror welling up inside of him so thick he runs the risk of choking on it. "Oh, god, this was a date, wasn't it?"
"Did you have fun, darling?" Eames asks, finally calming down but still smiling, when the reach the top, their car swaying in the wind.
"No," Arthur answers, too quick and scowling and so obviously a lie that Eames has to bite down on his knuckle to keep from cracking up again. They start their descent. "No. And, and I didn't get the blow job I was promised."
Eames is quiet. He keeps smiling, soft and too indulgent to be hurt. He says, "Oh, Arthur," just once, barely loud enough to be heard. They start back up, so the circle can complete again. He says, "Arthur, how long have we been sleeping together?" And it isn't like a question at all.
"Oh," Arthur says, still thick with horror and completely lacking all the panic he's just waiting to set in. "Oh my god, I'm not just in it for the blow job." They're almost to the top again. He's almost at the top of a Ferris wheel, sharing a car with Eames of all people, and he tries quickly to think of anyone else he'd rather be there and comes up with a complete blank.
He thinks about jumping just to save his dignity.
"I can see you're thinking about jumping to save your dignity," Eames says, smiling, leaning forward to put the bear next to Arthur. "We can keep pretending, if it will dissuade you of that planned course of action."
"Eames," Arthur sighs. His stomach is too full from terrible, delicious food. He can feel the sunburn on the back of his neck, in the tightness of his cheeks when he frowns. His limbs feel heavy and exhausted. "Jesus Christ, Eames," he says, not just a little terrified, "What is this shit? What did you even do?"
Eames raises an eyebrow, and laughs again. Different this time, though. He rubs at the corner of his mouth, where he's had chocolate smeared for at least half the day that Arthur just let stay there. And it's all just so fucking stupid Arthur could scream.
They're stopped at the top, and have been for long enough that Arthur's got to wonder how he missed Eames slipping another bribe, and also, how much cash had Eames even brought with him today? Jesus.
He doesn't say that, though he wants to. He even kind of means to say that, but when he opens his mouth what comes out is: "I told you this wouldn't end well."
And before Eames can stop being fully amused at the fact that Arthur is apparently in love with him, what the fuck, or before he can start to doubt that he might actually know Arthur better than he knows himself, Arthur breaks the operating rules and moves to the other side of the car.
It sways, wider than it had been, enough to let absolutely everyone on the ground who's looking realize it's because someone's rocking it. But Arthur ignores it, just shoves Eames back into the seat and kisses him, hard and hand-shaking-terrified.
"You're trembling," Eames says, when the jolt of movement starting back up jerks them apart. He should sound smug, he probably means to sound smug, but he doesn't even land in the same field. His fingers are curled under Arthur's belt, and his eyes are wide.
Arthur snaps a picture of Eames with his phone, says, "I'm still holding you to that house of mirrors thing, don't think I'm not."
Eames laughs, and curls his fingers tighter to tug Arthur down next to him before the car comes to a stop at the bottom. Arthur smiles, and grabs for the stupid teddy bear.