It was a morning like any other when Eames waltzed into their current warehouse and gave Arthur a peck on his cheek along with his usual "Good morning, darling."
He carried on like nothing unusual had happened, leaving Arthur to stare at the back of his head, trying to make sense of what just happened. After a moment, he gave up and went back to work, checking the PASIV settings for the preliminary testing of Ariadne's new maze scheduled for that day. Eames was just being Eames, relishing in finding new ways to get under Arthur's skin. It didn't mean anything, Arthur reminded himself, resolved to not let the flirting get to him.
Yusuf came in next, waving a cheerful hello as he walked past Arthur with a case of potentially hazardous chemicals under his arm, followed by Ariadne, who gave Arthur a smile before falling into a conversation about possible improvements to her design with Eames.
Cobb wouldn't be in until later, which was his usual M.O. these days. He'd been unable to give up on his career as an extractor, this line of work hardwired into him by now, but he picked the jobs more carefully and trusted his team to handle more on its own, allowing him to spend more time with his kids in turn.
Arthur missed spending time with Cobb sometimes, used to his presence echoing his own, but he also recognized that those times had been filled with grief and too much work, and had probably not been healthy for either of them. Arthur was happy to see the changes in Cobb, to see him smile more. A lot of that had to do with being able to be with his kids, but Arthur was certain that it also had to do with something that had happened during the inception job; Cobb held himself with more ease now, his shoulders relaxed and free of the tension they'd carried ever since... Mal.
Arthur hadn't seen as much as a glimpse of her in months.
It was such a relief to know Cobb had let her go. He knew Cobb would never completely get over her death -- Arthur doubted he himself would, either, and he hadn't been half as close with her as Cobb had. Still, there was a difference between remembering her, and carrying her memory into every moment lived and decision made. She'd been a lovely woman. She hadn't deserved her memory to be turned into something ugly and violent, drenched in guilt and grief.
It was better like this, now that those who'd known her were free to remember her as she'd been, instead of as a malicious entity to look out for. Arthur still didn't know what exactly had happened -- he'd always known Cobb hadn't killed Mal, just as as he'd known Cobb somehow felt responsible for it, but their friendship had never been big on heart-to-heart conversations so he'd never heard the whole story from Cobb -- but he suspected Ariadne had some hand in the end result. However it had happened, it made Arthur feel content, almost, to know that Cobb could finally associate Mal with love again, instead of his own guilt.
Cobb arrived just before noon, the preliminary testing was promising, if not entirely successful, and no one died in unexpected and gruesome ways. All in all, it was a good day's work, and Arthur allowed himself to feel cautiously pleased as he packed away his things. The warehouse emptied slowly, Cobb being the first one out the door, followed by Yusuf who was scheduled to fly out to Mombasa later that night to oversee his business there, leaving strict instructions about what of the compounds left behind they were allowed to touch and what was to be left alone, or else.
Ariadne lingered a bit, stowing her plans away and idly chatting with Arthur for a while about her studies and the hassle of transferring from one country and university into another in the middle of the school year.
When she was gone, Arthur settled in to write a report and the consequent analysis of the haphazard notes on the progress made during the day. He was squinting at Yusuf's handwriting -- the man should have been a doctor, not a chemist, Arthur thought -- when a ragged notebook landed on top of his keyboard. Glancing up, he found Eames leaning over him, one hand on the table and the other on the back of Arthur's chair.
"How about you leave the statistics to sort themselves out for once and let me take you for a night out," Eames said, waggling his eyebrows in a patently ridiculous manner.
"I'm afraid you'll be much more likely to 'sort yourself out' without me than these notes are," Arthur retorted, brushing the notebook aside and going back to deciphering Yusuf's writing.
Eames didn't budge.
"You sure?" He asked, leaning in. "It'd be good for you, darling. All work and no play doesn't make for a happy man."
"You would know, I'm sure," Arthur drawled, not looking away from his work.
"Your wit wounds me, sir," Eames said, and from the corner of his eye Arthur saw the hand on the table vanishing. He resisted an urge to roll his eyes; Eames was probably clutching at his chest with it like the theatrics loving fool he was.
The hand reappeared after a moment.
After another moment of silence, Eames unexpectedly said, "Want some help?"
Arthur snorted rather unkindly. He knew exactly how unhelpful Eames' help could be.
"Very well, then," Eames said with a long-suffering sigh. "I can tell when I'm not wanted."
Arthur barely suppressed another snort at that, and then suddenly Eames was leaning close, breath warm against Arthur's ear.
"Good night, pet," Eames murmured. His lips brushed against Arthur's cheek in a fleeting kiss before he abruptly straightened and strode away, leaving Arthur to stare at his retreating back, bewildered.
Arthur swallowed down the inexplicable, inconvenient spike of arousal, furious with Eames. With himself.
He'd gotten used to Eames' ridiculous, demeaning pet names. This was just Eames trying to get a reaction, and Arthur wasn't going to give him that satisfaction. This new folly would die out soon enough when Arthur would refuse to bring it up with him or react to it in any way.
Not that that had worked with the pet names, but that was different. Completely different.
Arthur cursed and pushed the thoughts violently to the back of his mind. He had work to do.
The next morning Arthur was the first one in again, as usual. Ariadne swept in an hour or so later. She had classes later that day and only had time to sketch out some basic suggestions based on the previous day's data to improve the maze. Arthur handed her the freshly printed, updated version of the maze specs and progress thus far -- Arthur didn't mind the work, knowing what it was like having to rifle through hand-written notes and suggestions scribbled on napkins. It was more time-efficient for her, this way.
Eames breezed in half an hour later, a paper bag full of bakery goods swinging at his side. Ariadne let out an exited squeal at the reveal of bagels and what looked like an assortment of muffins, and attempted to give Eames a hug of gratitude made awkward by the way she was trying to stuff half a bagel into her mouth at the same time.
Eames' laughter was warm as he hugged her back with one arm, pushing the opened bag closer to her with the other.
Arthur shook his head and turned back to the filing cabinet to hide his smile.
The next thing he knew, there was a brush of lips on his cheek and a hand holding a muffin in front of his face.
"Hello, darling," Eames said. "Here, have a muffin, I know you haven't had breakfast yet. I'll put the coffee on."
Arthur stared at the muffin, then at Eames.
"There's nothing wrong with it, pet, I even made sure it's the hideously healthy kind that you like. Look," he waggled the pastry in front of Arthur as if it'd help make his point. "Organic whole wheat and carrot, right?"
"How did you --" Arthur started, frowning.
"I do have eyes, Arthur, and I'll have you know that my observational skills are excellent."
Arthur merely raised his eyebrow, making no move to take the offering.
Eames sighed, took Arthur's hand, forcefully placed the muffin in it and said, "here", folding Arthur's fingers around it.
For a moment, Arthur's hand was enfolded by both of Eames', and he looked up, startled. He didn't mean to initiate eye contact, but there it was -- Eames' eyes were amused and, more unexpectedly, warm. Arthur was certain his own were too wide, the confusion too obvious.
But Eames just shook his head and said, "Must you make everything so difficult." He released Arthur's hand and stepped back; there was a rueful smile on his lips when he turned to go. Arthur watched as he wandered back to the table where he'd left the rest of the food. Ariadne was sitting at the desk nearby with a pencil in one hand and bagel in the other, deep in her designs. Mercifully, she seemed to have missed the interaction between them.
Arthur looked down at the muffin in his hand, then glanced at Eames, who was still acting like he'd done nothing strange, getting the coffee going like he'd promised. Making coffee was, in theory, the job of the first one in, but since that was usually Arthur and making coffee wasn't high on his lists of things to do, it kept slipping his mind. It didn't help that he preferred tea, personally, not that he ever remembered to make it either.
Shaking himself out of his wandering thoughts, he bit into the muffin, warm and soft, the flavors just right. Just as promised.
Arthur hated Eames, a little, for getting it right.
The kiss accompanying Eames' "'night, darling," that evening wasn't surprising anymore, but that didn't mean the disconcerting sense of déjà vu he got from watching Eames' retreating back was appreciated.
There was something to be said for a job well done. The extraction had been relatively simple, but that didn't mean the time taken for preparations and back up plans hadn't been worth it. Arthur came out of the dream with a small smile; an extraction completed, smooth as you please. This was what job satisfaction felt like.
The whole team was in a good mood as they cleared up the equipment and re-situated the mark, dispersing with the man none the wiser.
The money from the job would last a few weeks until Cobb -- or Saito, on occasion -- contacted them about the next one. Not that any of them were hard up on money after the inception job. Sometimes it did pay to take risks.
In the mean time, Arthur had nothing lined up to take his time. He thought he might take a break, visit Milan, maybe. Buy a new suit.
When his phone buzzed a few hours later, he hadn't yet made any decisions. Flipping it open, he found a text from Eames.
> U STIL IN CITY??
Arthur rolled his eyes at Eames' spelling and insistence on using all caps, sure that it was done solely for his benefit. Nonetheless, he only hesitated a moment before answering with an affirmative. His phone buzzed again less than a minute later.
> CONVNZD ARDI 2 GO OUT 2NITE 2 CLBRITE U COMING?
>> Why isn't she texting me?
> COZ I M
> U WOULDNT GO W/ JST ME??
There was a pause during which Arthur poured himself some wine he'd set out to breathe earlier and sat on the couch, fiddling with his phone. There were two thirds of the wine left in his glass when his phone let him know he had a new message. It was from Ariadne.
> E told me i had to text you or you wouldn't believe i was coming tonight. You're mean! :)
>> Never trust an Eames.
> :D so i see you later then?
Arthur thought about it for a moment and then sent a simple,
He got another message as he was sending it off.
> ARDI TXT U?
> U BLF ME NOW??
>> I believe her.
> MUSNT B SO MEAN DRLING
>> That's what she said.
The pause after that one was loud and stretched on for minutes. Arthur wasn't sure if it was because Eames was busy laughing or if Arthur had managed to actually surprise him into forgetting how to operate his brain.
Eventually, Eames texted back with,
> DDNT THNK U HAD IT IN U
Arthur didn't have time to reply before it was followed by,
> DS TS MEAN UR CMING 2NITE
>> When and where?
> STS NEW PLCE AT 2130 B THERE OR ARDI SAD, DRSS DWN! ;)
Arthur closed his phone after emptying the message folders by force of habit and leaned back, sipping his wine. It was only just after eight and his condo wasn't far from the city center where Saito's new bar was located. He still had time.
He wasn't sure why he'd agreed so readily to spend any of his free time around Eames, who'd continued to be impossible and aggravating as usual throughout the job. He'd also insisted on continuing with his new habit of giving Arthur affectionate kisses for hello and goodbye, and sometimes, with a distracted air, as a thank you. Arthur had been unmoving, refusing to bring it up, but that didn't seem to deter Eames in the least. More was the pity, Arthur thought, uncomfortably aware that he was already getting used to this new form of torment.
At nine, he touched up on his hair and changed into another suit, blithely disregarding Eames' order to dress down for the night. Had their destination been a more casual establishment, he might have reconsidered, but while Saito wasn't the type to outright flaunt his money, he did have a thing for a certain kind of opulence. It was doubtful that anyone would look twice at him for being overdressed at any place of Saito's.
Arthur was the first to show up, having no trouble getting in. The bar was exclusive, but there were perks to knowing someone like Saito, who'd been very clear on the privileges available for his favorite -- and only, Eames had seen fit to mention -- inception team.
Arthur ordered a drink while waiting, studying the tasteful yet obviously expensive decor, but it wasn't long until Ariadne appeared, touching his shoulder lightly in greeting as she dropped into the seat across from him.
"Eames went to get us drinks," she said, unwinding the scarf around her neck. She looked pretty with her hair in an upsweep, wearing good quality clothes that flattered her beautifully.
"I got mine," he said, and Ariadne laughed.
"I know. Which is why I think he'll get you something absolutely revolting. He thinks he can get away with it if it's not your only option, or something."
"Is it even possible to get something revolting at a place Saito owns?" Arthur wondered.
"I guess we'll find out," Ariadne said, looking over his shoulder.
Eames set down the drinks he was carrying, pushing a White Russian to Ariadne, setting aside his own beer and a shot of dark rum, and leaving Arthur with something... green.
"Thanks?" Arthur said, voice dry.
"You're welcome, darling," Eames replied, leaning down to kiss Arthur on the cheek. "Be a dear and scoot over, would you," he said to Ariadne who was sniggering into her glass.
After seating himself, Eames forced them to raise a glass to their job success.
"Drink up!" He cheered, voice too loud for the classy atmosphere of the bar, and downed half of his obscure, foreign beer in one go.
Arthur shook his head as he brought his own glass to his lips, but couldn't bring himself to really mind, or to regret coming.
There was no way he'd touch that green concoction, though.
"That green... thing... was vile," Arthur said, frowning at the way the words floated in front of him. So undisciplined. Floating around like they didn't have a care in the world. Like they didn't care that Arthur was... where was he?
"Vile. I don't know how... why did I drink it again?"
"I'm just too charming to resist," Eames said from beside him.
Right. It was all Eames' fault. That made sense. But wait, no --
"Like hell you are," Arthur said, and Eames laughed uproariously. There was supposed to be another person laughing too, Arthur thought, but no, Ariadne had already found a taxi, she wasn't with them anymore.
"Ariadne went home," Arthur said. There was something wrong with the asphalt. It was all... uppity.
"So she did. And now so are we." A hand came to hold his elbow. How insulting. Arthur didn't need any help getting home. Or staying upright, or. Walking.
A taxi stopped for them, but not close enough to make walking unnecessary. It was such an injustice. Arthur wouldn't have needed any help if not for the uppity pavement. He wondered who'd thought that up. Stupid dream. There would be words when they woke up.
Eames pushed him into the cab and followed suit, giving the driver Arthur's address.
"You're not coming home with me," Arthur scowled. He wasn't, at the moment, entirely sure why it was important not to take Eames home with him, but for some reason he just knew it was a terrible idea.
"I know, but I'm not trusting you to find your way on your own right now. I'm drunk, but you're completely shitfaced, darling. I'll just get you sorted out before I go, yeah?"
"I don't get... shitfaced," Arthur said, mimicking Eames' tone.
"You did tonight," Eames said. He sounded amused. Soft around the edges. "Feel free to blame it on me in the morning."
Arthur would've replied, but it wasn't just Eames anymore, the whole world was fuzzy. He was leaning against something warm that moved when Eames breathed. This was a stupid dream. It had to be a dream, because he didn't get drunk, would never surrender his control like this.
He was half-asleep when Eames tugged him out of the taxi, telling the driver to wait for him. He didn't remember the trip upstairs, or losing his jacket or vest or tie. He had a vague memory of Eames tugging his shoes off and setting a blanket over him.
He was almost asleep when something made him open his eyes. He blinked blearily up at Eames, who smiled when he saw Arthur looking, but Arthur thought his eyes looked serious.
He bent down to press his lips agains Arthur's forehead.
"Good night, love," Eames said, his voice soft. "Sleep tight."
You keep kissing me, Arthur wanted to say, but the words were sluggish inside his head, his mouth stubborn and still, and Eames was already moving away.
Arthur fell into a dreamless sleep.
He avoided Eames with a glowing success for a full fortnight after that.
Despite only having vague recollection of their night out he was at least reasonably sure he hadn't done anything entirely too uncharacteristic or embarrassing. He'd had no problem going out for lunch with Ariadne a couple of times since nor deflecting her gentle teasing without feeling awkward.
Seeing Eames, though, he'd gladly postpone. Getting pathetically drunk had been unbecoming enough. Knowing it had all been witnessed by Eames was mortifying, no additional drunken shenanigans required.
He wasn't sure what was worse, the idea of getting mocked for his slip of control, or the thought of Eames being understanding.
Finding an aspirin and a full glass of water on his nightstand upon waking had been enough to cement in his mind how very much he did not need or appreciate Eames being considerate -- for some reason, he found it terrifying.
More than that, he didn't want to see Eames because he didn't need to be reminded of how pathetic he'd been. There were no words in his vocabulary to describe how very unappealing the idea of being somehow pitied by Eames was.
Alas, life could only accommodate him for so long, and half way through the third week of his successful campaign of avoidance, a message from Cobb informed him that his time was up.
The job came from Saito and was labeled urgent, as was often the case with the corporate kind. Saito was taking the time for some personal involvement on the job and was already at the warehouse, along with Cobb who made a point of being present in the preliminary meetings, when Arthur arrived.
He was getting the quick rundown of the job -- a suspected corporate spy -- when Eames arrived with Yusuf, shortly followed by Ariadne. Saito politely excused himself to greet them, leaving Arthur and Cobb to tie up the conversation. Arthur hadn't been able to help tensing up the moment Eames had stepped in. Would he make fun of Arthur getting drunk, or be mad about being ignored and avoided? Arthur hoped he'd have enough sense not to get into it in front of the team.
"Everything okay?" Cobb asked.
Arthur tried to relax; of course Cobb would notice. Of course he would. Unbidden, his eyes slanted towards Eames, who was laughing at something Saito said, his arm around Yusuf's shoulders. Cutting his gaze back to Cobb, he found himself being treated with a raised eyebrow. He squared his shoulders.
"Everything's fine," he said, making eye contact.
"I trust you would tell me if something wasn't," Cobb said after a moment of silence, then nodded towards the others, topic closed.
Eames saw them coming and let go of Yusuf, meeting them half way. He nodded at Cobb as they passed each other, but continued on to his real target, throwing a companionable arm across Arthur's shoulders and kissing his cheek in one smooth movement that seemed to be mostly overlooked by the rest of the team.
"Missed you," Eames murmured against his ear. Then he slapped Arthur on the back and moved away, whistling as he rejoined the others -- why, the bastard was smirking!
Arthur smoothed over his expression, exuding nothing but calm professionalism as he joined his team, but inside he was seething, tension gone and worry forgotten in the face of Eames' nonchalant, business as usual attitude. It was probably the best outcome he could have hoped for, but it grated on him. As they went over the job and got their game face back on, Arthur was taciturn and snappish. His demeanor wasn't different enough from his usual working attitude to invite questions from the team, but he could feel the weight of Cobb's eyes on him, thoughtful and assessing.
He needed to get a grip, figure out what was wrong with him. He couldn't let Eames keep getting to him like this.
This was why he hated rush jobs, Arthur thought grimly, pressing a hand to his side as he struggled to finish the preparations for the final kick. It was a two-level dream. Saito and Yusuf were in the real world; Cobb, Ariadne and Eames were in the second dream level with the mark, hopefully getting the info they needed so they could all get the hell out of the dream already.
Arthur loved his job. There was nothing else in the world he'd rather be doing. But there were days when he was shot up and irritated and dying, when nothing seemed to be going his way, when he found himself questioning his sanity.
It wasn't that the mark had a militarized subconscious, not like someone with training might, like Fischer. But she was one paranoid fucker, and her projections were vicious.
An unexpected encounter with them had left Arthur's clothes in a disgrace, and a particularly lovely projection had managed to ram a meat fork through his side. He wasn't sure he wouldn't have preferred the carving knife the projection had wielded in its other hand. It was that kind of a day.
No matter. They were almost out of time and all he had to do was hold on until it was time for the kick -- the waterfront patio of the cliff-side restaurant they were in was scheduled to collapse in six minutes and counting. It was too bad that Arthur would probably have to take the hard way out to give his team the time they needed by drawing away the projections that were getting more and more restless, suspicious of what was going on in the patio.
The shape he was in, he wasn't looking forward to his death. Getting dismembered wasn't high on his list of experiences to repeat.
He'd just finished his final preparations, keeping one eye on the projections in the restaurant proper while trying to keep out of their direct line of sight, when Eames breathed deeply and opened his eyes. He sat up, taking in his surroundings.
Arthur raised his eyebrow, about to ask, when Eames caught sight of him.
"What the bloody hell happened to you?" He sounded startled, almost angry. He clambered to his feet and came to stand in front of Arthur, who was leaning against the railing, one hand holding the detonator and the other pressing against his side in a futile attempt to prevent the blood from seeping out.
"Got jumped by a group of overzealous projections near the kitchens while setting the explosives," Arthur said, brushing away Eames' inquisitive hands. "It's fine, we're almost out of time anyway."
"Shit," Eames shook his head, eying the wound hidden by Arthur's hand and blood-soaked shirt.
"I'm not the only one having problems following the plan to the letter." Arthur said, feeling annoyed and defensive. "You're still supposed to be under."
"Yeah." Eames was still preoccupied, trying to assess Arthur's condition. "Just, she was starting to question the presence of her dear old partner in crime, had to bail. Cobb and Ariadne were doing fine when I left them, come on, let me see."
"It's nothing. We don't have time for this." Arthur nodded towards the doors. "The projections are getting restless, and I'm not going to let them tear into Cobb and Ariadne. Since you're here, you can trigger the kick. You can count, right?"
"You're in no shape to take on an army of a crazy woman's projections," Eames frowned.
"I didn't ask for your opinion," Arthur snapped with cold fury. "I asked if you can count. I can do my job."
"There's no one on the planet who doubts that, love," Eames said, deftly maneuvering Arthur into the spot where Eames had just gotten up from. "I'm saying that you shouldn't even be standing, let alone running around with people waving meat skewers at you --"
"It was a fork, part of a meat carving set --"
"And since I'm here," Eames spoke over him, "there's no reason for you to push yourself, alright? You're better at counting anyway."
Arthur's face was stony, but he let Eames coax him into sitting down, hissing at the flare of pain the movement caused. It pained him on a purely mental level to admit, but it made sense to let Eames handle the projections.
When Arthur managed to focus on his surroundings again, Eames was kneeling in front of him with a crooked smile. For a moment, Arthur had trouble remembering what they were talking about. He swallowed, closed his eyes for a second to clear his head, and gestured to the table behind Eames where their assorted weapons were laying.
"Fine. Three minutes to go, don't make me get up again." The detonator felt heavy in his hand and he was having trouble keeping the pressure on the wound. Goddamn restaurants, he thought. Goddamn Eames.
Eames flashed him a cocky grin, darting in and pressing a kiss on his cheek.
"Wish I could put a bullet in your head, love," he said and stood up to get his gun.
Arthur barked out a surprised laugh, which only sent out another wave of pain.
"Why, Mr. Eames, I do believe that's the sweetest thing you've ever said to me," Arthur said with a faint smirk and leaned his head against the railing.
Eames turned just enough for Arthur to catch a glimpse of his grin.
"I aim to please, darling," he said, and was gone.
Arthur tried to ignore the sudden, painful thud of his heart.
"What the bloody fuck?" Was the first thing Eames said when they came out of the dream, getting up from his lawn chair like he was looking for a fight. He wasn't talking to Arthur -- the words were aimed at Cobb.
Cobb frowned. "We got the information. It's done."
"I'm talking about Arthur! Did you get a look at your point man before you waltzed back into the real world? He should've had back up."
"Hey!" Arthur said. He was ignored.
"Whatever happened," Cobb said, puzzled and annoyed, "Arthur obviously handled it. He always does."
"Yusuf could have --" Eames started, taking a step towards Cobb, who silenced him with an impatient hand gesture.
"The mark saw him when we used the taxi ploy to get to her. You know we couldn't risk her recognizing him from the real world and connecting the dots after waking up."
"That's my point," Eames snapped. "We did a shoddy job of planning this one out. We should've had more time."
The last one was aimed at Saito as much as it was for Cobb. Saito folded his hands behind his back and inclined his head the slightest bit in agreement, taking the blame but offering no apologies or excuses.
"You weren't voicing any complaints before," Cobb said, stepping into Eames' space. "If you thought things should have been handled differently --"
"You're the one who's supposed to be the mastermind here, maybe if you cared enough to actually be around sometimes these days --"
Cobb's eyes flashed.
"If you think for a moment that I'd do anything to endanger Arthur's safety, or that of anyone on this team --"
"Guys --" Ariadne tried to interject without much success.
Arthur had had just about enough of this.
He stepped up to Eames and Cobb who were standing practically chest to chest, teeth bared at each other, and pushed himself between them, forcing them apart with his hands flat against their chests.
"That's enough! Get a grip, both of you -- this job isn't over yet." He pushed until they were forced to take another step back and cut a pointed look at the mark who was, thanks to Yusuf, still under. "Dom, go to your kids. I have this. Eames, it's done. Let it go."
"Arthur --" Cobb started.
"Darling, I just --" Eames tried.
Arhur treated them with a cool look and raised eyebrows, daring them to continue. Cobb was the first to capitulate. He looked away and took a deep breath before meeting Arthur's eyes again, remorse clear in his expression. Arthur shook his head minutely; whatever had happened in the dream, he didn't hold Cobb responsible for it. After a moment, Cobb nodded and turned to go, not bothering with goodbyes. After shifting uncertainly where she stood, Ariadne shot a look at Arthur and, at his shrug, darted after Cobb.
When Arthur looked back to Eames, the remaining culprit, he took a step back and held up his hands. Arthur regarded him for a moment before deciding it wasn't worth it.
"Okay," he said, turning his mind back to work. "We still have some cleaning up to do, so lets get to it. Saito, you get to help."
He met Yusuf's eyes and inclined his head the slightest bit towards Eames, all too glad to foist him off to someone else. Yusuf gave Arthur a wry smile but didn't protest.
"You and Eames," Dom had said when Arthur had called to check up on him the next day.
"There is no me and Eames," Arthur had retorted.
For a while, there'd been nothing but the sound of papers being shifted on the other end of the line.
"Figure it out," was all Dom had said in the end.
Arthur refused to acknowledge there was anything to figure out -- if there was a problem, it was all Eames' -- but not arguing had been as good as making a promise to Dom, that's how it worked with them. So when Arthur found Eames at his door later that same night, he couldn't in good conscience shut the door in his face. Still. He didn't have to be nice about it.
"What are you doing here?"
Eames, lounging against the door frame, gave him a lopsided smile. It didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Wanted to apologize," he said. Arthur raised an eyebrow, skeptical.
"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to," he said, leaving it at that.
"Yeah, well," Eames shrugged, something belligerent in his expression. Arthur sighed soundlessly and stepped aside.
"I'm not having this conversation in the hallway," he said, jerking his head to get Eames moving.
Eames' arm brushed against Arthur's as he walked past, the scent of his aftershave, barely-there, clinging to Arthur's mind.
Closing the door, Arthur frowned, feeling like something was missing. Realizing a moment later that it was because Eames hadn't kissed him on the cheek in greeting had him resisting the urge to rest his head against the door in dismay.
Cursing in his head, he quickly composed himself before he turned around and walked past Eames into the kitchen.
"Something to drink?"
"Whatever you have is fine," Eames said, wandering into the connecting living room.
Arthur opened the low cabinet where he kept his alcohol and pulled out a bottle of single malt whisky. He didn't know about Eames, but Arthur could certainly appreciate it right now.
Coming into the living room with a glass of whisky in each hand, he paused to look at Eames who was moving around restlessly, absently picking things up and putting them back down, running his fingers on the spines of Arthur's books.
There was nothing in the apartment that couldn't be left at a moment's notice, but these were still Arthur's things, decorations he liked, books he'd read. Seeing Eames in the midst of them, disrupting their natural order and leaving fingerprints all over, did strange things to Arthur's insides.
He cleared his throat and stepped forward to hand Eames his glass. He tightened the hold on his own when their fingers brushed, feeling like he'd gone through a kick.
"Thanks," Eames said, bringing the glass to his lips. Arthur realized there might be a problem here when he caught himself staring. He quickly took a drink of his own, turning away. He walked to the windows, looking over the view of the city. It was a nice location, one he couldn't have afforded just a few years prior. Everything changed.
And some things, he reminded himself as he heard Eames move closer, remained the same.
"Good brew," Eames said and Arthur shrugged.
"I know." He took another sip.
"I'm not actually here to apologize." Eames said, regarding Arthur with a small frown between his eyebrows. He was rolling the glass slowly between his hands, back and forth, hypnotic.
"Then why are you here?" Arthur asked. He didn't feel particularly surprised at the confession.
"I don't know." Eames shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Then he leered, saying, "I guess I just didn't feel like leaving without a proper goodbye."
Arthur rolled his eyes, turning back to the view. In the aftermath of the rushed espionage job, the team had spread out. While they'd gotten the information they'd been after, they were also aware that the spy hadn't been working alone, and the aftereffects of the arrest were still rippling through the business world. It was safer to just lay low and keep the contact between them to a minimum for now.
Saito had already returned to his empire. Yusuf would be flying back to Mombasa soon. Ariadne had mentioned visiting her friends in Paris, and Cobb was staying with his kids. Eames, well. Apparently his plans involved harassing Arthur. A bit counter-intuitive, that -- not that Eames wouldn't be able to spot a tail and lose it, if it came to that. Arthur would never admit it out loud, but he knew that despite appearances, Eames was too much of a professional to ever be careless enough to put others in danger. Still, it went completely against protocol for Eames to currently be at Arthur's apartment.
He looked up when Eames stepped closer and set his glass to the windowsill, then did the same for Arthur's.
"So, about that proper goodbye," he said, standing too close. Looking at Eames, at the way he smiled, insolent and daring, all Arthur wanted to do was step closer; he wanted to feel Eames' stubble against his own clean-shaven cheek, wanted to hook his fingers into the front of that stupid, paisley shirt and bury his face against Eames' throat to breathe in the lingering scent of his aftershave.
In that moment, he could see what he'd been trying to ignore, and the sudden knowledge of exactly how deep under his skin Eames had gotten was unappreciated. Unwanted.
Arthur's breath caught in his throat when Eames shifted closer, his hand deliberately brushing against Arthur's. Arthur was suddenly sure that this kiss wouldn't be on the cheek, would seek out his mouth instead, and that couldn't happen. There was no way that was going to happen.
He turned his head away when Eames leaned in, felt lips brush against his ear in passing. He didn't look at Eames, fixing his gaze to the horizon.
Eames stayed where he was for a moment, just breathing. The he stepped back, cleared his throat.
"I should go," he said, voice rough.
"Have a good trip," Arthur managed. He didn't know where Eames was headed, just that he was leaving. He always did.
After a moment, he heard Eames' retreating footsteps. Arthur heard the locks on his front door click into place and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, then another. Then he opened his eyes and picked up his own glass, followed by Eames', and drained them both.
Bottoms up, he thought, the smooth burn of whisky sliding down his throat welcome like a lover's touch. He left the empty glasses on the windowsill; they'd just get in the way.
There was a whole bottle waiting for him in the kitchen.
Arthur wasn't sure how to deal with his feelings for Eames, so for a while, he didn't. Acting like nothing had changed wasn't a hardship; as far as the rest of the world was concerned, nothing had.
In an attempt to gain perspective, he went to Spain and then to Italy later the same week. He visited Milan and Florence, but avoided Rome. He went to Morocco, to Egypt, but never stayed for long in one place.
He was in Marrakesh when a card arrived to his hotel, addressed to his alias. It simply said,
I hope you're having a good time, darling. Still thinking of you.
How Eames had known where to find him, or why he'd sent a postcard instead of showing up in person -- not that Arthur was ready for that just yet -- were questions Arthur tried not to dwell on. He fingered the edges of the card, thinking back to all the times they'd met over the years, examining Eames' actions and his own reactions, trying to make sense of the underlying patterns.
The card was the only sign of Eames' continued existence Arthur had gotten in weeks. It didn't feel right.
After a month and a half, he flew back to the states and stayed with Dom for a week despite knowing better. Dom didn't comment. Arthur helped around the house during the day, and while Dom was making food, he played with James and Phillipa. In the evenings, he and Dom sat at the back porch, not talking.
It was all horribly domestic. It was also the first time in weeks that Arthur had felt some measure of peace.
"I'll be flying out tomorrow," Arthur said one evening, almost a week into his visit. He didn't know where, yet, but it was time.
The Cobb family home was in a quiet neighborhood, nothing but insect noises and the distant hum of the motorway disturbing the quiet of the evening.
"Heard Eames might have some reason to be in Dubai next week," Dom mentioned -- a seeming non sequitur, said in a tone of voice that would've better suited a comment on the weather.
Arthur allowed himself a rueful smile, not bothering to hide it.
"I've heard it's beautiful there, this time of year," he said, staring across the yard.
Overhead, the insects kept buzzing back and forth, back and forth, the dying light of the day glittering on their wings.
The hotel had an open floor plan, and the ground floor was done in warm, creamy colors. The decor was a mixture of middle-eastern and western aesthetics, aiming for a vague sort of old world charm, catering mainly for rich foreigners.
Arthur sat at the hotel bar nursing his drink, his expensive suit and relaxed body language indicating him to be a man of leisure; he didn't have the air of a man who's waiting for something. It was a game he played, partly because he could, partly because he'd never been fond of looking desperate.
Not that he was desperate, or even impatient. He was just waiting, on the off chance that his information was correct. Considering the source, there was little chance it wasn't. Still, plans changed, especially plans of people like them. But he'd only been in the city for a day, and had nowhere better to be. He didn't mind waiting for a little longer.
It was midday when Arthur felt a touch at his back, a touch like a token, well known and loved.
"Darling," Eames said, and the movement was so familiar, so expected, that all it took was Arthur absently turning his head to meet the greeting, and they were kissing.
It wasn't much more than an accidental brush of lips, barely worthy of being labeled a kiss at all, but there was intensity to the way their lips clung to each other, reluctant to part.
Even after their lips had separated, they were still too close to each other, barely a breath between them. Arthur closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. All he could smell was Eames, his aftershave, a faint hint of sweat from the Dubai sun. It was far from unpleasant. He turned his head to the side. Swallowed.
"I --" His voice was rough. He took a sip from his drink. "My apologies."
"For what?" Eames asked. There should have been a leer in his voice, a teasing edge to the words, but instead they came out sounding -- serious, Arthur thought, looking up. Eames was right where he'd left him, standing unnaturally still.
"Arthur," Eames started to say, and whatever he saw on Arthur's face made his expression break into something more familiar, if still cautious. Giving him plenty of time to move away, Eames lifted his hand to Arthur's cheek, his fingertips tracing the shape of it. "You might have noticed by now that I'm a stubborn fool who'll just keep coming back for more heartbreak, but I really wish -- that is, I need to know. Do I have any chance at all, darling?"
Arthur looked back to his drink, unable to meet Eames' eyes just then, but there was something warm uncurling in his chest. He smiled faintly.
"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, Eames. I think. I think I figured it out."
It wasn't his most coherent moment, but looking at Eames, he knew he'd been perfectly understood. There was a slow-blossoming smile on Eames' lips unlike anything Arthur had ever seen on him before, a match for the look in his eyes.
"Arthur," Eames breathed out, making an effort to keep his voice pitched low; "love. I am painfully aware that we're not in a place designed for public displays of affection, but unless you tell me not to, I'm afraid I'm going to have to be completely inappropriate with you right now."
Arthur could feel the smile tugging at his lips, couldn't reign it in. Eames leaned closer.
"You're not saying anything," he said.
"Your observational skills are excellent," Arthur replied, their lips brushing with every syllable.
"Cheeky," Eames murmured against his mouth before kissing him for real, no more room for words.
Eames felt solid and welcome against him, and Arthur closed his eyes, his smile melting into a moan. He shifted, still half-sitting on the barstool, gripping Eames' barely-acceptable shirt for balance. Eames rested a hand on Arthur's lower back, the other tangling in his hair, messing it up. Arthur couldn't bring himself to care.
Eames' approach to kissing was like his approach to anything else he enjoyed, intense but playful, and being the sole focus of it, up close and personal, was intoxicating.
Arthur tilted his head for better access, running his tongue against Eames' in invitation. When it was briefly captured between Eames' teeth, Arthur's body moved on its own accord to get closer, helplessly aroused, his reaction impossible to miss. Eames groaned.
A particularly loud clink of glasses finally made them pull away from the kiss, still breathing each others air. Eames sneaked a look to the side where the bartender was studiously ignoring them, a thunderous scowl on his face.
"I suppose that's our cue to make our exit," Eames smirked, rubbing his nose affectionately against Arthur's before stepping back. He slipped his hand in Arthur's and pulled him away from the bar and out of the hotel.
"Anything in your room you'll miss?" He asked.
"No," Arthur replied. There was only a change of clothes -- clean, impersonal, nothing to lead back to him.
"Good," Eames said, his eyes crinkling with pleasure.
"Did you already finish what you came here to do," Arthur asked. Eames shrugged.
"Found something better," he said.
Arthur ducked his head to hide his smile.
"That's good," he said, and followed Eames to the airport.