Actions

Work Header

Nothing more dangerous (than a boy with charm)

Work Text:

It’s a complicated job. More complicated than Arthur’s ability to plan and Cobb’s ability to build can hold together on their own. Arthur can refrain from giving details and Cobb can spin a line, but neither of them can lie, not lie with their body and voice and mind like you need to be able to to convince someone’s subconscious, with all its intuition and gullibility.

They both know it’s going to be an issue, that they’re going to need something bulletproof to hook the mark, when they’re in the build for the first time, talking about the angles and learning the maze, but they don’t say it then.

Eventually, they slide out of the dream, and unhook themselves. Arthur’s packing away the PASIV when he says quietly what they’re both thinking; ‘We need a forger.’

Cobb’s staring at his labyrinth models like he can see something down there. ‘I know a guy,’ he says, without looking up.

Turns out, actually he just knows a guy who knows a guy. He’s been like this since Mal’s funeral - nothing but work, but the details just seem to ... slip his mind, or something. It drives Arthur to distraction, but Cobb’s so fucking fragile these days, brittle and sharp, that Arthur just goes with it and mops up after him. He’s still Cobb, he’s still Arthur’s partner, he still gets jobs done. So despite the fact that it’s a pain in the ass, Arthur deals with this kind of shit. He doesn’t like middle-men, probably because he comes close to being one himself sometimes, but he meets the guy at a bar (Shanghai does a good line in bars, and in middle-men) and gets details for the other guy.

The other guy’s in Sydney, of all places. Arthur is quietly grateful for his apparently innate resistance to jetlag, and books a flight out there that night. He packs a case at the high-rise apartment he and Cobb are using while Cobb, still sketching mazes like his fingers are on auto-pilot, looks on. ‘I’ll be back the day after tomorrow,’ Arthur says as he zips the case closed.

‘You’re going like that?’ Cobb asks, looking him up and down. ‘Seriously?’

Arthur looks down. He’s wearing nothing out of the ordinary. ‘Yes?’

‘Good luck.’

‘Fine’ Arthur says, and takes his tie off, undoing the top two buttons and making sure the edges of his collar are even.

‘Yeah, very casual,’ Cobb says, and looks back down at his drawings before Arthur can catch his eye. He smirks.

Arthur rolls his eyes, and picks up the case and the PASIV. As he turns to go, Cobb tosses the tie at him. ‘Just in case,’ he says. ‘You never know.’

Arthur has three ball-point pens and a disassembled Glock 17 on him, ‘just in case’, but he takes the tie anyway, tucking it into the trouser pocket that doesn’t hold his die. He resists the urge to fiddle with his collar.

The flight’s standard procedure. Arthur sleeps most of the way, retreating into the blessed blackness of his skull despite the rowdiness of the tourists on their way home. He’s never found it hard to go to sleep.

As soon as he gets through Immigration he hits the bathroom and, hidden in a stall, reassembles the Glock. It goes into a holster just behind his hip, a comforting weight, hidden by the cut of his jacket. He knows it’s a risk -- if security mark him he won’t be able to talk himself out of trouble -- but it’s not likely to be a problem. He doesn’t look like the kind of guy who carries, he knows that.

He flushes the toilet, just in case anyone else is in there listening, and goes to wash his hands, going over the details in his head - localities, tasks, names, the fact that despite the unfamiliar setting and the weapon, this is the real world. He knows how he got here.

Feeling armed against any unforeseen circumstances, Arthur steps out into the Sydney twilight to find his target.

The guy, the forger, is called Eames. Arthur assumes it’s a surname, doesn’t make a call on real or assumed, because really, it doesn’t matter. What matters more right now is that the bar - Grasshopper - is almost impossible to find, tucked up in an alleyway behind a store selling denim and leather and other must-haves for the urban cowboy, and is entirely lacking in advertising. If it weren't for the fact that Arthur and Google Maps do not get on, he'd be pulling out his iPhone (everyone with more than two cents to rub together has an iPhone, it's camouflage) right now. Eventually he does locate the place, and is asked by the doorman if he's been there before.

He says no. This is a miscalculation. Contrary to popular expectations, Arthur tells the truth more often than not, particularly in the real world. Just this once he wishes he'd lied though - he doesn't need a run-down on the beverage list (only one beer? Honestly?) or the fact that they serve cake - he just wants some fucking directions. Cake is irrelevant.

Eames turns out to be mostly shoulders under a hideous paisley shirt, and he’s drinking something neon and layered out of a jam jar, one hand idly spinning something between fingers and thumb, over and over. It’s that that marks him. Either he’s obsessive-compulsive in some way, or he’s a man who needs a constant reality-check.

‘Mr Eames?’ Arthur says, although it’s not really a question.

‘I am indeed. Which means you must be the infamous Arthur,’ Eames replies, turning around. His accent is English, although Arthur can’t, yet, decide on a region, and his grin is as broad as his shoulders. He eyes Arthur up and down, and his gaze flicks from Arthur’s hand in his pocket, fingers locked around his totem, to his shoes, to his unbuttoned shirt collar and finally to his eyes. ‘I hear you have a job for me,’ he says, leaning back on his stool and jamming whatever he was playing with back into his own pocket.

‘If I think you can handle it.’ Arthur keeps his voice flat and level, free of challenge. The last thing he wants is someone impulsive. Eames’s grin subsides, replaced with something harder, something like pride.

He leans forward again, bright eyes searching Arthur’s. He taps the PASIV case gently with one foot, encased in a cheap leather shoe. ‘Want to test my methods?’ he asks, licking his lips.

Arthur nods. ‘I’ve got a hotel room booked a few streets away,’ he says.

‘Then let us away,’ Eames says, draining his glass and getting to his feet. As they move he asks, ‘Are you going to tell me what the job is?’

‘Afterwards,’ Arthur says, stepping forward to avoid the hand Eames is about to place on the small of his back. ‘This is just about you proving you can forge.’

‘Who do you want me to be?’

They get out on the street, and Arthur still has to walk briskly to avoid being touched. Eames is apparently handsy. ‘Impress me,’ he says drily.

‘I’m guessing that’s difficult,’ Eames says as they approach the hotel. He stops, and looks up at the building. A sliver of his grin comes back as he says, ‘You do realise what this is going to look like, don’t you?’

Arthur shrugs. ‘Worried about your reputation, Mr Eames?’

‘I wasn’t aware I had one any more. Not one that could be sullied by sharing a hotel room with a man in a -’ he pauses pointedly, and eyes Arthur again, ‘ - very fine suit, anyway.’

‘Come on,’ Arthur says, turning away. ‘We’ve got work to do.’

‘And I intend to work hard,’ Eames says behind him, in a determined and distinctly unflirty voice that makes something tighten at the base of Arthur’s spine.

***

The name Arthur checks in under at the Hilton Sydney hotel is not his name. He had the foresight to book a twin room, but not to check in early - Eames takes the opportunity while Arthur’s stationary at the reception desk to slip an overly-familiar arm around his waist and squeeze. His hand on Arthur’s hip is big and warm through the fine fabric of Arthur’s trousers, and his fingers slip into Arthur’s pocket and play with the tie that’s rolled up in there briefly before curling around the curve of Arthur’s ass instead. His elbow bumps against the holster of Arthur’s Glock. His thigh and Arthur’s grind together with the die in the middle - there’ll be a tiny purple bruise there tomorrow.

It’s the first time Arthur’s ever been frisked and felt-up at the same time, and so thoroughly on both counts, too.

He doesn’t let go until they’re in the elevator, and then Arthur steps away pointedly, feeling Eames’s arm drag persistently along the small of his back as he does so. As soon as he's free of the weight of that limb he realises what else he's been freed of the weight of, and he follows the movement instinctively, his head snapping up and his body shifting to a defensive stance.

Eames is lounging against the other wall, Arthur's Glock in his hand, big fingers curling around it competently. It has been a very long time since Arthur was disarmed, and it makes him think all sorts of unprofessional thoughts, but he just narrows his eyes, and calculates. They're alone in an elevator. Eames is unlikely to be psychotic enough to think he can fire a weapon in a hotel and get away with it. And Arthur is fairly sure he can take the forger in a hand-to-hand fight.

But before Arthur can say a word or speculate on which way Eames will duck if he lunges, Eames hands the weapon back. ‘My my, I had no idea you were so pleased to see me,’ he drawls. ‘Consider that one of my many talents,’ he adds.

‘So far the list is ‘lechery and petty theft’,’ Arthur retorts, reholstering the Glock. ‘I can get those on any street corner, Mr Eames.’

‘Fine, consider them bonuses, then. ’

The elevator bell dings, and they get out. Now that he’s apparently made his point, Eames keeps his hands to himself and lets the space between them lengthen to the point that Arthur is more aware of the distance between them now than he was of their proximity earlier. Without overtly looking back to see if Eames is coming or not, Arthur opens the door to their room. He enters carefully, even though he knows he’s not expecting security or anything more dangerous than a mint on the pillow, because this is the real world. He goes through the motions anyway. They’re habits for a reason.

Eames follows him in and looks around, clearly taking in the two single beds, the small bathroom, but also the windows, the balcony, and he even looks up, his eyes sweeping the corners of the ceiling. Arthur watches the movement of his back underneath his godawful jacket speculatively. ‘Mysteriousness aside,’ Eames says, still inspecting the room, ‘I am actually going to need some details. What do you want? Businessman or whore? I can do either,’ he says, and now he does look at Arthur, that smirk beginning to paint along the lines of his face again. He also takes the jacket off, thank fucking God.

‘This isn’t the job,’ Arthur points out, putting the PASIV down on the nightstand between the two beds. ‘This is your audition.’

‘So what part will I be reading, my duck?’ Eames says, toeing off his shoes and flopping onto the left-hand bed. He rolls onto his side to regard Arthur pulling out IV lines and checking connections. ‘Businessman?’ he says again, and smooths a hand down his shirt, showing off, ‘or whore?’ he finishes, toying with a button.

Arthur ignores him and moves away to sit on the edge of the right-hand bed, pointedly removing his shoes with more care than Eames did. Then he leans across the space towards the forger. Eames lies back properly, rolling up his sleeve for the IV. Arthur swabs his wrist with the alcohol as impersonally as he can, and hands him the line, avoiding handling bare skin.

Screwing the hired help doesn't go down well with Cobb, and Arthur generally prefers to abstain anyway. It would be easier to do that if Eames was actually throwing himself at Arthur, or if Eames was completely oblivious. But it's this 'look how good I am, you know you want to hire me' competency -- Eames is just as clearly testing Arthur out as Arthur is testing him, as if he might say no to the job if Arthur doesn't measure up. And that is insulting and infuriating, and that is why Arthur isn’t touching.

‘Just show me you can forge,’ Arthur says, swabbing his own wrist and feeling the calm settle in with the cool of the evaporation, the serenity that going under always seems to produce in him. He could use some of that right now. ‘I want to see how you play it.’

‘Impress you,’ Eames says, echoing Arthur from earlier. ‘Right.’ He pushes the needle home, and closes his eyes.

Arthur inserts his own IV. ‘Mr Eames, you have five minutes to do just that,’ he says, and hits the button.

***

It’s Arthur’s dream, the usual, careful one he built years ago, the only one he shares with people he doesn’t know. He’s appreciating a very fine Scotch in a little theatre bar, the posters for Don Giovanni putting a splash of colour on the walls, as Cobb sits down.

‘You know, this isn’t a fair test,’ the extractor says, drumming his fingers against the bar. His hair is combed back, damp and wavy, and he smells of a cologne he hasn’t worn for a year and a half.

The corners of Arthur’s die bite into the palm of his hand as his fingers lock reflexively, testing, testing, despite the fact that he knows this is his own dream and his totem can't tell him anything. There are other clues; tiny, subtle ones: Cobb is perfectly clean-shaven, the lines around his eyes aren’t as deep as Arthur remembers.

‘Oh?’ The response is non-committal. Arthur’s almost sure -

‘You’re a secretive man, Arthur,’ Cobb says. ‘I’ve only met your partner once, and that was a long time ago. And I don’t believe we have any other mutual acquaintances that I can draw on for inspiration.’ He shrugs, looser than Cobb would, and a flicker in the mirrored glass wall behind the bar catches Arthur’s eye.

Eames sits next to him now, perfectly at ease in an equally perfect facsimile of one of Cobb’s favorite three-piece suits. ‘Admit it, I had you for a second,’ he says, grinning.

‘You’re a couple of years out of date,’ Arthur points out.

Eames shrugs. ‘But I was perfect on the detail,’ he counters. ‘I have a very good memory.’

‘What else can you do?’

‘You mean, who?’

‘I mean, what if I need you to be something else?’

Eames eyes him calculatingly, and with not even the slightest wrinkle in the fabric of the dream, Arthur’s suddenly having a drink with a man in a stained Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt and a pair of ripped blue jeans.

‘A bit of rough, then?’ Eames asks in a dark and untutored voice. There’s a smear of silver in the hair at the temples of this body, sun-damage on the skin of his arms. Arthur rolls his eyes and takes another sip of whiskey. Whoever Eames is being now smiles at that. ‘Or maybe not,’ he says musingly. ‘Maybe your type’s more refined,’ and the word ‘refined’ coming from that mouth, in that uneducated accent, is the only jarring note so far.

The incongruity doesn’t last long, though. Now Eames is blonde, lithe, has always been female, with a dress just classy enough to look at home here to the casual eye (not to Arthur’s, though - so much for ‘refined’), and stilettos neat and prim as she crosses her ankles.

‘Can I get you a drink?’ he asks, seeing that she doesn't have one. Never let it be said he doesn’t know how to treat a lady, even one who hasn’t always been so ladylike. And truth be told, three consecutive fakes in one dream with this little disturbance is ... impressive. Although he assumes Eames’s projections are probably used to this.

‘Martini,’ Eames says, in a voice that’s a little deep for a woman, but musical, with an American accent. ‘Please.’

Arthur snaps his fingers, and the barman gets out the vermouth. ‘How do you have it?’ Arthur asks when the barman cocks an eye.

‘However it comes, darling,’ she says, rolling the last word in her mouth with some enjoyment.

Arthur ignores the obvious bait there. ‘You’re not going to say the line?’ he asks, instead.

'Do I look like my name is Pussy Galore?' Eames retorts as the barman slides the drink (stirred, with two olives), across to her.

Arthur laughs at that. 'Actually, yeah. You look exactly like that was what you were going for,' he says, eyeing her lazily and wondering if this is Eames's best effort. He suspects not. He's getting the definite feeling that Eames isn't the kind of man to put all his cards on the table at once.

Eames sips the martini slowly. ‘Do you always speak so nicely to your lady-friends?’ she asks, and now the voice is unmistakably English, and unmistakably a purr.

‘Do you always make your cover this transparent, Mr Eames?’

She pouts, and gestures down at herself. ‘Miss, please.’ Then she reaches out, running her fingers along his forearm. ‘You know exactly who I am, darling. I’m just showing you what I can do.’ When she’s leaning forward like this, Arthur can see right down her cleavage. He takes the time to inspect it. He has to admit, it’s pretty good. Eames has even managed to avoid the usual male forger’s mistake of perfect symmetry. Her breasts are gorgeous, and the spray of tiny freckles across her clavicle is a nice touch. She's a work of art.

Bringing his eyes up to a more respectable altitude, Arthur wonders idly if Eames knew, or knows, this woman, and how far his research went.

‘Perfect in every detail,’ Eames says, as if she can read his mind. ‘You’re welcome to inspect.’ She licks her lips, and lowers her lashes coquettishly. ‘Actually, please do.’

‘Let’s try and keep things professional,’ Arthur says coolly and with perfect awareness that lines like that are all part of the character.

‘Darling, do try to live a little.’

Arthur turns away and orders another Scotch, making a mental note that when he tells Cobb to hire Eames (which he will), he’s also going to tell him to keep a fucking tight leash on him, because talent or not (and it is phenomenal talent, the best Arthur’s seen), Eames is quite capable of making himself a liability.

When he looks back, Eames is examining herself in a mirrored compact. She snaps it shut when he turns, and looks at Arthur from under her eyelashes again. 'Is my audition over? Because I have everything I need, and my diary's clear for the rest of the evening ...' She raises an eyebrow at him.

Arthur considers for a moment, and then decides it probably counts as research, and that a man who can both lift Arthur's gun (and live) and imagine a pair of just-uneven-enough breasts is worth researching.

'I have a hotel around the corner,' he says, and then adds, because there are advantages to a real-world fuck, 'Or we have one topside.'

He pushes the tumbler back to the barman, and draws his weapon. 'Your call,' he says, and sets it down. The Glock's polymer case clicks on the glass top of the bar. Miss Eames smiles, and curls her fingers around it by way of answer.

***

'You're a Glock man,' Eames observes he disposes of his IV line and Arthur packs up the PASIV. Given he's already seen Arthur's Glock, the remark seems a little redundant.

'And?'

'Dreaming, as well as awake.'

'I stick with what I know.'

Eames squints at him for a moment. 'I figured you for the M9 type.'

Arthur snorts. 'Once.' He straightens up, and feels his spine pop into alignment with some relief. 'Is this really what you want to be talking about right now?'

'Always the businessman,' Eames says, rolling his neck. 'I'm guessing there are rules,' he adds.

'There are always rules,' Arthur allows, although that wasn't what he was going to suggest as a topic of conversation. He turns to face Eames fully, and hooks his thumbs into his trouser pockets, waiting to see where this is going.

Eames eyes him appraisingly and appreciatively, but doesn't move towards him. 'I'm going to hazard a guess that they're rules of the 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas' kind,' he says. 'Perhaps rules saying I can't touch you ever again when we're done here?'

Arthur shrugs. 'Those are what you think my rules are?' Aware of the fact that he's being watched, he takes off his jacket, moving his shoulders and shrugging the thing off with some deliberation.

'They seemed like likely bets,' Eames says, staring. 'Why, how wide of the mark am I?'

Arthur puts his jacket down, and folds his arms. 'First, I don't care who you tell - I doubt you'll tell anyone at all, actually. The only person I might be concerned about is Cobb, and I can deal with Cobb if he has objections. And second, if you touch me sometime and I don't like it, I'll break your fingers.'

Eames smirks. 'Oh really.'

Arthur decides that the two feet between them is an inefficient distance, and closes it. 'Really,' he says, at a much more sensible two inches spacing.

Eames settles his hands at Arthur's hips, and two fingers find the holster again. 'I can believe it,' he murmurs. 'Armed and dangerous, aren't you, darling.' He leans in slowly, and presses their mouths together.

Arthur peels himself away long enough to remove his weapon. 'Unarmed now,' he says, and moves back in.

Eames says, 'Still dangerous,' and sucks at Arthur's lip.

Eames kisses like he forges - sliding like silk from one state to another. One moment he's soft and calm, holding tight and steady, and it's all very romantic-movie, but as soon as Arthur presses a little deeper, looking for something else, he ups the ante and then there are delicate, dangerous hints of teeth and his manner becomes entirely insistent.

Arthur likes that, pushes closer again to ratchet it higher and tighter, feeling Eames grin against his mouth. They're moving, and Eames seems to have a direction in mind, which Arthur spares a moment to think about and realises must be back towards one of the beds. Sure enough, within the space of a minute, Arthur finds his knees backing up against a mattress, and he sits down abruptly.

The view of Eames from this angle is particularly aesthetically pleasing, emphasising the difference between his waist and his shoulders. Arthur tilts his head back to admire it all.

'Do you know,' Eames says conversationally, licking his lips and letting Arthur look his fill, 'I rather thought you'd prefer Miss Pussy Galore, back in the dream. Not that I'm complaining,' he adds.

'I'm not into fantasies, Mr Eames.'

Eames raises an eyebrow. 'Some might say that as you're a professional dream-invading criminal, that remark might not be strictly accurate,' he points out.

Arthur lets his legs fall open, leaning back on his hands, and says 'She wasn't my type.' It's the truth. Off-the-rack is not his style. Maybe one day he'll let Eames try something bespoke, but right now he'd rather have something unique. Unique and genuine. Arthur appreciates authenticity.

'This is your type?' Eames asks, standing just beyond Arthur's ankles, in the V described by his legs, at the perfect distance for a strip show. He toys with his neckline.

Rolling his eyes, Arthur lunges forward and grabs Eames by his belt-buckle. 'Maybe not,' he says. 'My type usually knows when to stop asking questions.'

Eames grins, and slides his hands down the fine cotton of Arthur's shirt. 'I'm definitely not your type then.'

They manage to get their shirts off and Eames loses his pants, revealing red briefs underneath, and it turns out Eames isn't much of a talker, actually, but he does ask, 'Christ, Arthur, you couldn't have booked a room with a double?' when they're tangled together on the one single mattress. His tone is more amused than anything else though.

'I hadn't met you when I booked it,' Arthur points out in between sucking hard bruises along Eames's collarbone, his hands full of the forger's ass. 'How was I supposed to know you'd be this easy?'

'Easy is as easy does, Arthur' says Eames, and drags his blunt fingernails down through the sweat sheening Arthur's back. 'Now are you going to be helpful and tell me what you want, or am I going to have to guess?'

'I don't see why I should do your job for you,'

'But it'll be a black mark to my name if I guess wrong, won't it. Hmmm.' Eames makes a pensive face, tightening his fingers on Arthur's fine wool-clad hipbones. 'You're an abominable control freak,' he muses, his voice quiet and almost private enough that Arthur could believe he was talking to himself. 'So I wonder, is this what you want from me?' he asks, and with a quick movement, rolls onto his back, taking Arthur with him. He spreads out, as much as you can in a single bed, and wraps one hand around the headboard. 'All yours, Arthur.' He rolls his hips up, briefs dark and wet-looking and tight against Arthur's inseam, and quirks an eyebrow.

Arthur stretches out over him lazily, knowing he's smirking and not caring. Eames's lower lip is tempting him, so he catches it with his mouth before sitting up again, stretching. 'I know,' he says. 'You're close, Mr Eames. Keep guessing.'

What Arthur wants, actually, doesn't matter right now, because unless Eames really is a lot easier than Arthur thinks, their options are limited by their lack of supplies.

Apparently Eames has realised this as well, because he sits up suddenly, keeping Arthur over his lap. 'Arthur,' he says, eyes narrowing a little. 'You're a bastard.' He rocks himself up again, and Arthur has to plant his knees to steady himself.

'Oh?' he says.

Eames rolls his eyes. 'It's a bit late to be playing innocent, half-naked in another man's lap, laddy-buck. I don't suppose you're secreting any condoms about your delightfully well-organised and well-appointed person, are you?'

Arthur shakes his head.

Eames grins. 'You'll just have to take what you're given then,' he says, guessing entirely correctly, and plants two firm hands over the small of Arthur's back and the swell of his buttocks, and keeps pressure there while he grinds up.

Arthur feels his eyes roll back in his head a little. 'With pleasure,' he says.

They move together like that, slowly, for a moment, but it isn't long before Arthur's shoved Eames's shoulders back against the headboard and Eames has his teeth fastened somewhere around Arthur's carotid artery, and while they're both relatively quiet, the bed is most emphatically not.

'How am I doing?' Eames asks breathlessly, one hand jammed between them, gliding and sliding against the layers of cotton and wool that separate them. 'Am I reading your signals well enough?'

Arthur squirms against him, panting, and leaves him hanging on the answer until he feels the impending orgasm. 'You'll do,' he says, and comes with a little gasp, his eyes shutting of their own accord. Eames follows him over with a huffed laugh and a groan.

After they peel themselves apart, they look down at the mess they've made of the bed, and wordlessly move to the other one. Arthur is going to have to get his suit dry-cleaned somewhere discreet.

***

'I can't believe you bit me, you asshole,' is Arthur's first actual remark to Eames the next morning, as he's trying to make himself presentable again for his flight back to Shanghai. His suit and shirt are fine - packed in his case, there was nothing that could happen to them - but there's not a lot he can do about the stubble-rash, or the enormous hickey just above his left clavicle. He glares at his reflection. This will teach him to sleep with ill-advised Englishmen he's picked up in Australian bars.

'It was in the throes of passion, Arthur, you can't blame me entirely.' Eames appears in the mirror behind him, collar turned up, shirt (the same one as yesterday) undone to the fourth button and revealing quite a lot of ridiculous pectoral muscle and chest hair. He's got a hotel toothbrush wedged in his mouth and is speaking around it. Throes of passion doesn't sound quite as dramatic when said with a mouthful of toothpaste. 'Anyway, 'debauched' is really your look. You should capitalise on that.'

'Throes of passion my ass,' Arthur mutters, tugging at his sleeves. He threads his cufflinks through the neatly-stitched buttonholes and tries to ignore the fact that he is going to have to walk through two international airports looking like an extra from a B-grade gangster movie.

'Here, this will help, O sulky one,' says Eames, reappearing in the mirror with the tie Arthur had stuffed in the pocket of his other trousers. He slides it slowly under Arthur's collar and ties it in a neat, precise four-in-hand, which is not the knot Arthur would have chosen. But with Eames standing behind him, making eye contact in the mirror and with his hands all tangled in Arthur's neckwear, he hasn't the heart to object. (He'll retie it in the airport bathroom if it starts to irritate him too much). 'See?' Eames says. 'War wounds all hidden. Cobb need never know.'

He steals one last kiss and a slice of room service toast as Arthur is packing the last of his things. 'I'll see you in Shanghai in three days,' are his parting words.

***

Three days later, Eames turns up at their little apartment, larger than life and twice as appallingly dressed (tartan trews. Arthur thinks he may have to set Eames's legs on fire). Cobb shakes his hand and, looking from the offending article of clothing to Arthur's expression, and then up at Eames's face, says 'So, the trick to getting into Arthur's pants is to make him want to tear yours off then, is it?' When Arthur glares at him, he adds, 'What? You come back with a smug face and some serious stubble-burn, what am I supposed to think?'

Eames manages to keep a straight face and says, completely honestly in word if not in spirit, 'I assure you, my dear Cobb, he kept it in his pants the entire time.'