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this life looks good on you

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There are only four rules in Arthur's house, and they are posted on the refrigerator below the list of emergency numbers and above Eames' "Mind the Gap" magnet. The first three are typed in a clear, legible font, and read:

1) No gunfire in the house unless circumstance demands it.
2) All genitalia must be fully covered before leaving to get the paper.
3) Smoking is an outdoor activity only.

They are all rules Arthur has been following for years, though he had not felt it necessary to enumerate and publish them until Eames had traipsed into his life.

The fourth rule is not typed in a clear, legible font, and it has no business being on Arthur's fridge. It's handwritten across the bottom of the page in scrawling script with a red Sharpie marker, and reads:

4) Darling, touch nothing but the microwave.

It has, all things considered, caused Arthur considerably more trouble than rules usually do.

--

Like most couples, they've fallen into certain patterns. Arthur's favorite--not counting the "it's not dark out if we haven't fucked" policy, which would be anyone's favorite, really--is the dinner routine.

Arthur can't cook, is the thing. It's one of those skills he's always wanted to have in an absent, wistful sort of way, but he's shit at it and he knows it, so he doesn't bother. The few times he's tried he's followed the recipe exactly and produced nothing but smoke damage and unpleasant-looking gelatinous bits, so he’s given it up for a lost cause.

In all the years they've known each other, Arthur has never seen Eames open a cookbook. He's never seen Eames even glance at a cookbook, come to that. He has seen Eames chop an onion with a machete, which should have been terrifying and was incredibly hot instead, but that is entirely beside the point.

The point being: Eames is inexplicably fantastic in the kitchen and Arthur's a disaster, so Eames does all the cooking.

When they get in at night, Arthur always takes off his jacket, grabs two beers out of the fridge, and leaves the door open as he walks away. Then Eames rummages around in there until he has an armful of unlikely-looking ingredients to set out on the counter, muttering cheerfully to himself as he does so.

"What are we having?" Arthur always asks, tossing him a beer.

Eames just winks at him and sends him away to put on less restrictive clothing. When Arthur comes back in boxers and one of Eames' t-shirts there is always something beginning to smell unutterably amazing, and Eames always puts down whatever he's holding--an egg, a spatula--and kisses Arthur thoroughly before getting back to work.

They eat on trays, never bother setting the table, and it's always fucking delicious. They shoot the shit about their respective clients and Cobb's kids and whatever else, and then they finish and Eames says something like "The washing up can be buggered, darling, for all I care," and they move into the "it's-not-dark-unless" portion of the evening.

It's probably really idiotic, but it feels like home to Arthur. He can't quite figure out why.

--

They're...not exactly living together.

It's Arthur's house, technically. He bought it with some of the money from the Saito job, a little ranch style in South Pasadena. There's a cozy living room and a massive office and workable kitchen and two bedrooms with picture windows all over the place and it's quiet, sometimes achingly quiet. Arthur loves it.

Eames had leased an apartment in Silver Lake after Arthur bought the house, which had been small and ugly and entirely wrong for him. Arthur thinks he'd done it mostly because of the team's tacit agreement to stick with Cobb, to try and stay local enough that he could be around his kids, but sometimes he lets himself believe Eames wanted to stay close for other reasons.

It's not entirely outside the realm of possibility, after all. Eames does a lot of crazy things.

And, well, they'd been fucking regularly for about three months when Eames started sleeping over most nights, because Arthur's house was nicer and an easier commute. And then…it would had been really stupid for Eames to haul ass out to Silver Lake whenever he needed fresh underwear or his various work shit, wouldn't it, and Arthur had too much space anyway, and so things had started trickling in and staying in.

And after awhile Arthur's favorite chair broke and Eames had one just like it, and it didn't make any sense to spend money on a new one when they could just bring his over, and no one used the second bedroom anyway so there was no reason not to turn it into another office. And now there's a rug in the living room that Arthur doesn't remember buying and Eames hasn't slept at his own apartment in months and their closet is split between Arthur's suits and Eames' collection of assorted bizarre clothing.

Arthur is pretty sure Eames has moved in with him, but he's not quite sure enough to mention it. It would be a pretty awkward thing to be wrong about.

--

"Can I help?" Arthur asks one night, sitting on the counter and sipping his beer. Eames looks up from the roast he's searing and raises his eyebrows.

"That depends," he says.

"On?"

"On whether you want to eat beef bourguignon or charcoal briquettes for dinner," Eames tells him, smirking, and looks back to the pan.

Arthur scowls at his back and hops off the counter. "I'm not unteachable, you know."

"Did I say that?" Eames asks mildly. "I don't believe I did, but if you'd like to refer to the official record, I can draw one up for you in--"

"Eames," Arthur says, rolling his eyes, "shut up."

Eames shoots him a sidelong grin and Arthur leans against the fridge, his arms folded across his chest, fighting back a small smile. "I'm serious, though. You could teach me--I'm sure it wouldn't be impossible. It bothers me, that I can't cook."

"Or," Eames interprets, amused, "it bothers you that there's something I can do that you can't."

"Keeps me up at nights," Arthur agrees dryly. "I toss and turn."

"Not when I'm done with you, you don't." Arthur gives him a half-hearted glare and Eames finally laughs and puts his tongs down, coming over to him.

"Cooking requires imagination, darling," he says into the shell of Arthur's ear. "And as it so happens, it's not in my best interest to teach you, so I shan't."

"Why's that?"

Eames grins wickedly at him. "I don't have that many marketable skills, duck, aside from the illegal ones. You can't cook; I can. Why else would you keep me about?"

He's kidding. Arthur knows he's kidding. He drops the comment like it's nothing before giving Arthur a sloppy kiss and going back to the stove, and it should be nothing. It really should be.

But the sad thing is, Arthur thinks Eames might actually think that.

And the really sad thing is, Arthur wouldn't blame him at all.

He enjoys the dinner routine less, after that.

--

At some point or another, Arthur starts paying all the bills.

He's been paying his own forever, of course. The fact that he pays his own bills is not the strange part. But sometime between learning Eames' first name and realizing there's a strange rug in his living room, Arthur discovers Eames' abysmal credit score, and they talk about it.

Arthur says, "It's not like you don't have the money. Don't you ever pay your bills on time?"

"No," Eames says cheerily, looking delighted that Arthur is so distressed about this. "I have fake identities coming out of my arse, love, I've never been particularly bothered about it."

Arthur says, "That's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard you say."

And Eames shrugs around a mouthful of homemade chicken pot pie and says "Well, you do it, then."

Arthur is not sure if Eames is serious or not, but he is sure that a credit score like that will pull him down by proxy if he even looks at it wrong. Being ridiculously well paid mind-thieves is all well and good, but Arthur's had a 401K since he was 15 and responsibilities are responsibilities. He goes through some of his less savory channels the next week and manages to get all of Eames' financial information, and then starts slogging through things as best he knows how.

"Eames!" he calls one night. "When's the last time you paid taxes?"

"In what country?" Eames asks, coming in with a spoonful of something. "Oh, wait. Never, I suppose."

"Never?" Arthur repeats incredulously. Eames takes advantage of his gaping mouth and sticks the spoon in there; Arthur swallows reflexively and is immediately distracted. "Fuck, that's really good."

Eames beams at him. "I've been wanted for worse than tax evasion, darling," he says, as Arthur takes the spoon from him and licks at it like a crazy person. "I have appeared to pay taxes any number of times, if that makes you feel better."

"It really doesn't," Arthur sighs, but he gets up and follows Eames to the source of the deliciousness. It turns out to be risotto, which they end up eating straight from the pan at counter, arguing about tax law.

Finally Arthur says "Look, you're just going to have to teach me to forge your signature and trust that I won't bleed you dry, this is ridiculous."

Eames doesn't even bat an eyelash. It takes Arthur nearly an hour to get his scrawl right.

--

The first three rules get taped to the refrigerator after the time Eames flagrantly breaks all of them in one morning. He laughs when he sees the sign and flips Arthur his middle finger, which Arthur rolls his eyes at while trying desperately not to grin.

The fourth shows up three weeks later, when Arthur nearly burns the house down.

They have a fight. It starts as a friendly argument of the merits of one gun over another, mutates into a screaming match about an extraction Arthur had fucked up three years ago, and is really about the fact that Eames had been offered a six-month job in Cairo right in front of Arthur that afternoon, and neither one of them knows how to talk about it. Arthur says a number of hurtful things that mean “The idea of living here for six months without you is upsettingly bleak,” and Eames says a number of hurtful things that Arthur thinks mean “Well I don’t particularly like the sound of it either, pet, but it’s not like you’ve ever given me any bloody indication that you’d mind,” and really the whole thing is very unpleasant.

Finally, Eames says "Fuck this," and storms out and Arthur, who doesn't figure Eames is going to be coming back--not tonight and not for six months and maybe not ever--decides to make dinner. How hard can it possibly be?

The recipe says "Heat two tablespoons of olive oil over a medium flame." Dutifully, Arthur measures out the oil and turns the stove on, but he doesn't notice how close the paper towels are to the pan until one of them actually catches fire.

"Shit," Arthur says. He bats at the thing with his arm to try and put it out, which only manages to spread the fire to the rest of the roll and to the sleeve of his button down. Figuring it's best to put himself out first, he runs to the sink, sticks his arm under the water until he's doused the flames, and then quickly fills up one of Eames' beer tumblers and throws it at the blazing paper towel roll. He's a little distracted, which is the only reason he misses and hits the pan of hot oil instead.

Grease fires, as it happens, are very hard to put out.

Arthur is sitting on the back bumper of one of the fire trucks, arguing that he is perfectly capable of treating his own burns, when Eames runs up the driveway. Arthur is not angry anymore, hadn't really been angry to begin with, but something flares almost painfully in his chest at the absolute panic on Eames' face.

And then again, at the fact that Eames has returned at all.

"Arthur!" Eames is yelling, glancing around frantically, "Arthur!"

"Here," Arthur calls, and coughs. He'd stand up, but he's not entirely certain his lungs are ready for that. Eames comes to him instead, the panic in his eyes shifting into stunned relief, and he tilts Arthur's chin up and kisses him, gripping his shoulders.

Arthur coughs into his mouth, which is really disgusting, but Eames doesn't seem particularly put out about it.

He does step away to let Arthur catch his breath, though, and touches his hair, runs a thumb along his smoke-stained cheek. "Christ, darling," he murmurs, "what have you done to yourself?"

"I got hungry," Arthur says, sighing and coughing again. Eames makes a sound that would be a laugh if it wasn't so pained and sits down on the bumper next to Arthur, putting an arm around him. Arthur drops his head onto Eames' shoulder, feeling inexplicably better about the whole thing, and closes his eyes.

"And who are you, exactly?" a woman with a clipboard asks Eames a few minutes later.

"I'm Eames," says Eames, running his knuckles lightly, soothingly, down Arther’s arm, and there is something about his tone that makes her back off.

The damage doesn't end up being that bad. The ceiling is scorched and they're going to need to replace the stove hood and some of the cabinetry, but by and large they're very lucky. It takes the firemen a couple hours to get the place aired out and leave, and then Eames puts Arthur to bed, silencing his vehement protests that he's fine, he's fine.

The next morning, the fourth rule is there, bright red and underlined five times, and Eames is smiling at him over coffee and scones from the place down the street. Arthur tries to glare about it but smiles instead, and they watch the news together, laughing when their fire gets a minute of coverage.

Eames doesn't take the Cairo job.

---

Ariadne's birthday falls during a three month period where they're all working out of separate bases, and they decide to go out to a team dinner to instead of the usual bar crawl. Everyone shows up except Eames, who is occupied with following the mark to a fundraiser, so Arthur wishes Ariadne happiness on both of their behalves and then orders something that would taste a lot better if Eames had made it. They're halfway through their meal when his cell phone rings.

Cobb rolls his eyes, but Ariadne smiles at him, so Arthur answers it.

"Having fun without me?" Eames asks, the smile in his voice evident. Arthur bites down his own grin and has a sip of wine instead.

"Yes, actually," he says. "You should have come."

"Someone has to work while you lot wine and dine," Eames informs him. "Tell them I said that."

"Eames says he's a lazy shit and earned this punishment," Arthur tells the table. They all laugh as Eames squawks his indignity into the phone, and Arthur takes another sip of wine and leans back in his chair, grinning.

"Honestly, Arthur," Eames says, "I'd almost think you didn't like me."

"No you wouldn't," Arthur laughs. "You think everyone likes you."

"And everyone does, darling," Eames responds. "Did you wish Ariadne my best?"

"Of course I did," Arthur says, and then something occurs to him. "Hey, do you want me to bring something home for you? I can order it now, if you're not eating there."

"No," Eames sighs, sounding very much put-upon. "There's banquet hall chicken here for me to suffer through, and in any case I don't know if I trust you with take out food. There are so many ways you could do yourself and others harm, being nearby while they prepare it."

"You didn't think that when you made me get the Chinese last week," Arthur growls, shifting to hold the phone to his ear with his shoulder and take a bite of his dinner. It's still not as good as Eames' version would be, and he tips his chair back up on two legs and abandons the pursuit entirely. "Food here's not particularly fabulous anyway."

"I've spoiled you," Eames chides.

"Yeah, well," says Arthur, because it’s true. "You're sure you don't want me to pick anything up while I'm out? I could run through somewhere else."

"Don't be silly. I'll end up beating you home in any case, you watch," Eames says. "But if it's not too much of a bother, we are out of milk, and I'm desperately low on cigarettes."

"Milk and cigarettes," Arthur repeats, making a mental note. "There's a classy drugstore purchase."

"And you're nothing if not the epitome of class, love," Eames says. Arthur can hear his wink. "I've got to get back, they'll notice me missing if I'm gone much longer."

"And what were you calling about, exactly?" Arthur asks, amused. Eames snorts.

"Perhaps I just felt like hearing your voice," he says, and his tone is sarcastic but there's something rough and honest underneath, something that makes Arthur drop his chair to all fours again. "Do try not to drive home drunk, darling, you're not nearly as good at it as I am."

"I'll take the train," Arthur offers, rather than I won't get drunk, which is just a baldfaced lie. "Try not to get caught."

"I never get caught," Eames tells him, laughing, and hangs up.

Arthur kind of smiles at the phone as he puts it down, but when he glances up everyone is staring at him. He'd mostly forgotten they were there and he scowls at each of them in turn, narrowing his eyes.

"What?" he demands.

No one says anything, but Ariadne is giving him a soft, strange look and Yusuf is pulling out his phone to text his girlfriend and Cobb is twisting his wedding band around and around on his finger, smiling sadly.

Arthur's mouth goes very, very dry.

They move on, drink enough wine that Arthur definitely isn't getting behind the wheel, and stay out later than anyone means to. Arthur feels like there's something gone wrong in his chest the whole time, though he's not entirely sure why. When they finally head out Arthur hugs Ariadne goodbye, presses their gift into her hand.

"Eames said to tell you use this for evil and not good," he says, "and I think I'm supposed to tell you the opposite, but it's a new drafting kit, so I'm not really sure it can be used for either."

Ariadne opens the bag. "He was probably talking about the vibrator he stuck in here," she says, flushing a little.

Arthur could raise his eyebrows and pretend to be shocked, but it seems silly. He settles for a sigh instead. "I knew I should have double-checked that bag before I left this morning."

Ariadne gives him the look again, and then she leans forward and kisses him on the cheek, very briefly.

"So Eames was right about you wanting a vibrator, then," Arthur says dryly. Ariadne's flush goes considerably deeper, and she scowls at him. Arthur's pretty sure he taught her that expression.

"Excuse me for being glad you're happy," she says, and then she rolls her eyes like she is extremely bored with him, and Arthur knows he taught her that expression.

The strange feeling in his chest intensifies.

It's threatening rain when Arthur gets on the train and actively pouring when it pulls up to his stop, so he turns his collar up against the wind and walks through it, Eames' cigarettes in his pocket, the milk in his left hand. When he gets home he's soaked through, and he discovers that Eames has indeed beaten him here, as evidenced by the tux in pieces-parts all over the kitchen.

Arthur finds him in the living room, standing in front of the coffee table that had just appeared here a few months ago, looking contemplatively at the dismantled M-24 spread across it. He lifts his head when Arthur comes in.

"Christ, love," he says. "You look like a drowned rat."

Arthur stares at him. He's wearing a yellow t-shirt that says "Get Crunk"--where does he find these things--and mismatched socks, and a pair of boxers that Arthur is 95% positive aren't his and he lives here, he lives here, even if they're never going to talk about it.

The feeling in his chest hits crescendo and explodes.

Arthur takes three steps forward, kicks the coffee table aside, and grabs Eames by the back of the neck. He all but slams their mouths together and Eames makes a very alluring choked growling sort of sound and Ariadne was right, he is happy, has maybe never been happier. Arthur has never been very good at affection but this is something he can do, so he strokes Eames' tongue with his own and shoves him back into the wall, moves down to suck at the hollow of his throat.

He expects Eames to say something, something like "Well, hello to you too, pet," or "My my, we do get riled up when we're drunk, don't we," or even "Honestly, love, if I'd known you were in this mood we could have both skipped dinner," but he always forgets about how very real Eames' people reading skills are. What he actually does is pull Arthur's face up and meet his eyes, and then he smiles, one of those crooked, honest smiles that Arthur always finds so distracting.

"Darling," he says, and that's all.

He strips Arthur of his wet clothes slowly, piece by piece, and they fuck right there on the living room floor. Eames is intent and silent over him, his expression something serious and focused and raw, and Arthur is aware that there are things in his own eyes he's not sure he wants Eames to see. He doesn't close them, though, just looks and looks at him while Eames presses himself deeper in, brings Arthur apart stroke by aching stroke.

Eames hisses something when he comes, but Arthur doesn't catch it. He does catch the way Eames runs his fingers wonderingly across his hipbone, though, and smiles into the expanse of shoulder that is available to him.

They wake up with rug burn in the morning. Eames kisses his jaw, and makes pancakes.

--

"There's something gone off in here," Eames declares one night, with his head hidden behind the fridge door. "Any guesses?"

"I thought I smelled something," Arthur says. He's got his beer open and takes a swig from it, considering. "Probably the cream."

There is a pause. Then Eames pulls his head out of the fridge, making a terrible face and holding the pint-sized container as far away from him as possible. "Bloody hell, that's disgusting."

"I told you not to buy it," Arthur calls, laughing, as Eames takes the offending item out to the trash. "But it was ‘no, no, I can't make a proper gravy without heavy cream, darling'--"

"I sound absolutely nothing like that," Eames says sternly, shutting the door behind him. "You've got the vowels all wrong. It's 'darling,' not whatever mangled excuse for an English accent just came out of your mouth. Darling."

"Darling," Arthur repeats, furrowing his brow. Eames grins broadly and shakes his head.

"You're hopeless, love," he says, and goes back to his ingredient hunt. And suddenly everything's just the way Arthur likes it, with Eames' ass poking out tantalizingly from behind the refrigerator door and the faint air of mockery lingering around them, and soon he's going to eat something delicious and pay the water bill and have absolutely fantastic sex.

"Eames," Arthur says.

"Speaking."

"You don't honestly think I'd leave you if you taught me how to cook, do you?"

Eames bangs his head on the top of the fridge, swears, and then gives Arthur a very sharp look.

"Of course not," he says finally. "I'd hardly be living here if I did. Nice to know you don't think so, though."

Arthur raises his eyebrows and bites the inside of his cheek, hard, to keep from grinning like a damn fool.

"So you do live here," he says, as neutrally as he can manage. Eames winks at him and grabs the sour cream.

"Knew you'd catch on eventually, duck," he replies, and shuts the fridge door.

Arthur gives up the ghost, because this is Eames, and he’s going to see the smile whether or not Arthur actually lets himself show it. He grins shamelessly at him, feeling the corners of his mouth stretch to capacity, and means it. Eames leans against the counter and grins back, and they just stand there like that for a long minute, with the crickets going wild outside.

"So," Arthur says at last, "what are we having?"

There is the very faintest of pauses. Then:

"Strogonoff," Eames responds, his grin quirking into something self-deprecating and wry. "I was going to make Salisbury steak, but the cream rather ruined that plan."

"Because I can't make a proper gravy without heavy cream, darling," Arthur mimics again, admittedly not even trying to get the accent right this time. Eames growls at him and pushes him against the fridge and Arthur laughs into his mouth, because this is their kitchen, and their dinner, and their life.

"You," Eames says, when he finally leans back, "are a bit of a bastard, love."

But he's smiling when he says it, and his hands linger for a minute before he steps away, and he lets Arthur chop the onion.