Arthur was in the kitchen, making breakfast, when he heard Eames coming up behind him. He didn't bother turning around, content with having Eames pressed against his back.
"Morning, darling," Eames mumbled against his neck, his hands coming to rest on Arthur's hips, sure of their welcome.
"Good morning," Arthur replied softly and ran the spatula around the edges of the frying pan to make sure the omelet didn't get stuck.
"Mmm, breakfast," Eames said, pressing his cheek against Arthur's from behind. "You're a marvel."
Arthur smothered a smile and briefly rubbed his already shaven cheek against the rough stubble on Eames'.
"Go brush your teeth, and splash some water on your face to wake yourself up while you're at it. Breakfast will be done in a minute."
"Sure, yeah," Eames said, his arms sliding around Arthur. "In a sec."
Arthur slipped the omelet onto a plate and reached for more eggs. He cracked a couple of them into the pan and started in on the second omelet. From the corner of his eye, he glanced at Eames who was humming tunelessly, eyes closed, making Arthur sway slightly in his grip. Arthur allowed it until the omelet was done. Then he nudged Eames, trying to extract himself from his sleepy hold.
"You -- bathroom." He said, pointing the spatula at the kitchen doorway.
"Aye, aye," Eames said, clinging to him just long enough to press an affectionate kiss to his cheek before disentangling himself and making his way out of the kitchen.
Arthur smiled to himself as he set the plates on the table and got the orange juice from the fridge. Eames was affectionate at the best of times, but mornings were his favorite time to practice his octopus impression. Arthur didn't usually mind indulging him. It was... nice. No one had ever been so glad just to be close to him before. It felt like a novelty to Arthur, something he was half afraid to acknowledge in case it'd get taken away.
They were sitting at the table, the remains of the breakfast between them, when Eames' phone went off on the counter. Eames set down his section of the newspaper and gave his cell a displeased look. Arthur hoped it meant he regretted his newly changed ringtone as much as Arthur did and would be shortly changing it to something more tolerable. Sadly, it was more likely that Eames' dismay was for the interruption of his perusal of the foreign affairs, but one could hope.
"Do you pick your ringtones specifically to screw with me, or is your taste actually worse than I thought?" Arthur asked, barely looking up from his paper. "Wait, no, don't answer that."
"It's a classic," Eames said, getting up.
"It's by The Chipmunks," Arthur said flatly. He lowered the paper, about to tell Eames to answer the phone already so he wouldn't have to keep listening to the tinny sound of cheerful rodents slaughtering a song he'd never cared for in the first place, and found Eames standing at the counter, staring at the phone in his hand.
"What is it?" Arthur asked, tensing up. Eames looked up like he'd forgotten Arthur was there and shook his head, once, as if to snap himself back into gear.
"I'll have to take this, darling. Excuse me," he said, and walked out of the room. A moment later, Arthur heard the click of the bedroom door closing.
That was... unexpected. And didn't at all help Arthur get rid of the sudden tension in his shoulders.
It was nothing. Eames would tell him if something was wrong, and even if he didn't, it would be fine. Every relationship had secrets, and that went double for people in their line of work. So what if Eames didn't tell him everything that was going on with him? They weren't exactly the type of couple to have heart to heart conversations anyway. Not frequently, anyway, let alone eloquently.
After recklessly getting together in Dubai, they hadn't addressed their feelings or evaluated their relationship. They'd fallen into a surprisingly comfortable routine in the past six months -- honeymoon, Eames called it, making Arthur feel awkward and pleased and determined to never let Eames find out -- living together in a rather lavish house in the Virgin Islands, in no hurry to look up jobs. The point was, everything was going fine. Far better than Arthur would've expected based on previous experience in general and his history with Eames in particular.
So stop worrying about it, he told himself. This was why he failed at relationships, overthinking everything, expecting too much. Just because they were... whatever they were, it didn't mean they had to share everything. It didn't make them soulmates or anything like that. Besides, it wasn't like he was lining up to spill his guts, too used to keeping everything under his skin, private.
He tried to force himself to focus on world economy, fed up with his circling thoughts. Still, his head snapped up the moment Eames appeared into the doorway, and he dropped the newspaper like so much trash. He couldn't remember a word he'd read. Too obvious, Arthur thought distantly; you used to be smoother than this.
Eames palmed the back of his head, looking sheepish. Arthur raised an eyebrow but refused to come right out and ask. He watched as Eames stepped into the kitchen and dropped into his chair, resting an arm on the table and fiddling idly with his cell.
"Arthur, darling, the light of my life..." Eames began and Arthur's stare went flat. Eames glanced up and immediately held out his hands, leaving the phone alone. "No, no, listen, it's, I know we agreed not to take on any jobs while on honeymoon --"
"I didn't disagree, there's a difference --"
"Right, and our honeymoon was supposed to --"
"Stop calling it that, we're not married, Eames, for God's sake --"
"We'd planned to continue our honeymoon for a --"
"You planned --"
"Why am I even trying, you obviously don't care if we cut our honey-- our sabbatical or whatever, short," Eames threw his hands up, exasperated.
"We're cutting it short?" Arthur frowned, fingering the edges of the paper's business section. "The call was about a job then? I thought Cobb --"
"It wasn't Cobb," Eames said. "He wouldn't call me up first, anyway. As you well know."
"Yeah, okay," Arthur allowed, frowning. "A referral from Saito would've come through Dom as well, so what is it then?" Who called you that you didn't want me to hear, he didn't ask.
Eames looked hesitant again, absently scratching at his stubble.
"An old mate I used to work with. Called me up to ask my help on a job. Sort of."
Eames shrugged. "More like a referral. He's tied up, asked me to work with an extractor who's another old... acquaintance of mine."
"These the kind of old acquaintances you gambled out of their savings after a job, or the kind who wouldn't set you up for a fall in retaliation?" Arthur asked, wary of the way Eames was hedging around the facts. Eames smirked.
"It warms the cockles of my old, blackened heart, darling, the way you worry about me," he said, leaning back in his chair.
Arthur rolled his eyes but didn't argue. Eames' smirk softened into something more genuine.
"Naw, Peter and Victoria wouldn't throw me to the wolves. That's not to say they wouldn't enjoy watching me run from some blood-thirsty creatures --"
"Them and the rest of the world," Arthur put in, unable to resist the jab.
"But," Eames continued, giving Arthur an unimpressed look, "it's been years since I last saw them and I don't remember doing anything that would make them hold a grudge for this long. I don't think they'd risk me actually dying."
"Very reassuring," Arthur said.
"I'm not feeling the love here," Eames complained, nudging Arthur's foot with his own.
"So what did you tell them?" Arthur asked, nudging Eames right back. "You taking the job?"
"I told them I'm not working alone anymore, so I'd have to call them back," he said, meeting Arthur's eyes straight on.
Arthur's heart skipped a beat, his eyelids fluttering half-way down and back up without his permission. He ducked his head.
"You told them you wouldn't take the job unless they made room for one more on the team?"
"Essentially," Eames said. He cleared his throat. "I just assumed... If you don't want, I mean --"
"No, I'm. It's fine. Yes."
There was an awkward pause. Eames shifted in his seat, restless. His fingers started tapping an irregular rhythm against his cell.
"It's not like you'd be some useless tag-along. I didn't tell Peter anything about you yet, but anyone on the team worth their salt would shit their pants with joy to find out who their back up's gonna be --"
"Eames," Arthur said.
"Arthur," Eames started, wary, before Arthur interrupted him again.
"I said yes," he said, catching Eames' eyes. "I meant, yes, I'll do the job with you."
Eames looked at him blankly for a split second before his expression broke into a grin.
"I knew that," he said. "It's just that I know what a fragile ego you have, my dear, I was only --"
"Eames?" Arthur said, picking up his paper. "Shut up."
A moment later Eames was on Arthur's side of the table, tugging the business section out of his hands. He tossed it on the table where it landed on the greasy remains of an omelet. Charming.
"Don't you have a phone call to make?" Arthur asked as he was manhandled out of the chair, not that he was putting up much of a fight. He quirked a challenging eyebrow at Eames, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards.
"It can wait," Eames said, pressing him against the edge of the table. "This really, truly cannot."
Arthur could feel Eames through the thin fabric of their boxers, hard and hot. He regarded Eames through half-lidded eyes, his own arousal barely a step behind. His body was always so eager for Eames, so quick to respond. Easy.
Easy, so easy, he thought, pressing up against Eames with just enough strength to get him to push back, to keep Arthur where he wanted him to be. Eames' eyes were dark, knowing.
"Arthur," Eames said, and Arthur shivered, his arousal spiking. Eames' honey-on-gravel voice sounded absolutely wrecked with want.
"Yes," Arthur said, his own voice catching in his throat, and Eames' mouth crashed on his.
"So," Arthur mumbled into the pillow. He frowned against the fabric before moving his head just enough to be able to speak and breathe more easily. He blinked his eyes open. Eames was stretched out on his back beside him, his limbs flung out to all directions. There was a sloppy, post-coital grin on his face as he turned to meet Arthur's eyes.
"That," he announced, "was fantastic."
Arthur privately agreed. But that wasn't what he meant to talk about, and besides, Eames wasn't supposed to talk right now anyway. About anything. The way he sounded after sex, like a big cat, pleased and relaxed and practically purring, was terribly distracting. The way his accent thickened didn't really help either.
"So," Arthur repeated, trying to focus. "You never actually told me where we're going?"
"For the job."
"Oh." Eames closed his eyes, trailing the back of his hand against Arthur's bare side. "London," he said.
The weather was overcast when their plane landed in Heathrow, and by the time they were getting into the taxi it had started to drizzle. The wind picked up as they arrived to their hotel. It kept throwing raindrops against their windows throughout the night, but the following morning the skies were clear, the air crisp, weak sunlight shining on wet pavement.
Arthur was getting ready to leave when Eames appeared in the bathroom doorway.
"Done yet?" Eames asked, bracing himself against the door frame as he leaned into the bathroom. Arthur gave him a cool look before turning his attention back to the mirror, smoothing his hands over his slicked back hair.
Eames let go of the frame and stepped in, crowding Arthur against the sink. Eames leaned in to look into the mirror, flicking at his own combed hair -- neat enough, for him. He met Arthur's eyes, his expression amused, and Arthur gave him a wary look.
"What, am I hogging your mirror or something?" Eames asked.
"We're meeting your friend in half an hour," Arthur said.
"So?" Eames said, and -- yes there it was -- ran a hand down Arthur's back, the touch warm and heavy through his undershirt.
"So none of that," Arthur said. "We're not going to be late to a business meeting."
"It's Peter. He'll understand," Eames said, curving a hand against Arthur's waist, the other pushing his undershirt up, allowing Eames to have access to skin. Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Fine," he said, washing his hands. "I'm not going to be late to a business meeting. I don't care if he's your friend -- work is work, and I want to look presentable when I get there. On time."
Eames brushed a kiss against the sharp curve of Arthur's bare shoulder.
"You could show up in a potato sack and still be presentable, my little stick-in-the-mud," he said affectionately.
Arthur slowly turned around in the circle of Eames' arms, raising an eyebrow. He ran his hands thoughtfully up Eames' chest, feeling the heat of skin and muscle against his palms. He looked at Eames through his lashes as he took hold of the lapels of his shirt, enjoying the flicker of surprise on his face, the way his pupils dilated.
Arthur pressed a kiss against Eames' jaw, the corner of his mouth, smiling as Eames obediently took a step back when Arthur pressed forward, pushing him towards the bedroom. Eames' mouth was hot and wet against his when he leaned in, the kiss soft but eager, messy. Arthur let out a small moan. He pulled back, briefly leaned in for another press of lips and --
pushed Eames out of the bathroom and slammed the door in his face.
"You'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it," Arthur said, turning the lock. "Also, I've told you not to call me that."
"Arthur," Eames' voice came trough the door, mournful.
"Live with it, dah-ling," Arthur said, thumping his hand once against the locked barrier between them and turning back to the sink to finish getting ready.
"You're cruelty itself, my love," Eames' said. His voice sounded like he was standing right behind the door. "If only I knew how to live without you, I wouldn't let you treat me like this."
"I'm very sorry your life is so tragic, Eames," Arthur said distractedly, touching up on his hair. He ran his tongue along his bottom lip, absently wishing he could just say fuck it and postpone the meeting, but it just wasn't time-efficient at all. Besides, the one thing he'd always known about Eames was that his bad habits were not to be encouraged. Just because he now found those habits endearing didn't mean the rules had changed.
The pub they were meeting Eames' friend in had a low ceiling and dark, wooden floors. Its decor was well kept but worn, the deep green of the seats fading against the dark paneling. The place was, predictably, almost void of clientele. There was a middle-aged woman at the bar, ignoring the bartender who was wiping down the counter top. Neither looked up when Eames and Arthur stepped in.
The only other person in the establishment was a man in his late thirties, with unkempt brown hair and shabby clothes. With the dark rimmed glasses he looked like he could have been a stereotypical absent-minded professor, but the eyes behind the glasses were sharp, and there were lines on his face one didn't get from teaching in front of a classroom.
He got up when he saw them approaching. The air between him and Eames was -- not tense, but assessing; then the corner of Eames' mouth twisted upwards and the man took a step forward. The hug was brief but heartfelt; they smiled at each other as they parted.
"It's good to see you, Eames," the man said. There was a slightest pause before he said Eames' name, but he sounded sincere.
"You, too." Eames said. He turned to Arthur and said, "This is Arthur. Arthur, Peter."
"Good to meet you," Peter said, offering his hand.
"And you, as well," Arthur said, keeping the handshake brief but firm, polite.
"Please, sit," Peter said, sliding back to his own seat. Arthur allowed Eames' hand at the small of his back to steer him into the booth, looking up when Eames didn't sit down.
"I'll just get us something to drink, be right back," he said, his eyes flickering briefly to Peter and back. At the sight of Arthur's narrowed eyes, the faint crease between his eyebrows melted away and he chuckled, leaning down to brush a kiss against Arthur's cheek. "Nothing green, darling, I promise."
Arthur turned back to the table with a small shake of his head, pausing when he found Peter staring at him with a startled expression. He only had a moment to categorize it before Peter realized he'd been caught and dropped his gaze.
"Sorry I didn't have drinks waiting," Peter said, eyes flickering to Eames, "I wasn't sure you'd be on time. And while I might have guessed for Eames, I didn't know what your preferences would be."
"As long as it isn't green," Arthur said, indulging himself, "I'm easy."
"An unfortunate experience, I take it?" Peter said, smiling politely at the obvious inside joke. He leaned his elbows on the table, looking to the bar where Eames was chatting with the bartender as his order was filled. "I might guess who's responsible for it, too."
"Your guess might be correct," Arthur allowed. Peter's rueful half-smile looked oddly familiar, but before Arthur could think of it further, Eames was back, setting the drinks down and falling into the seat beside Arthur. He rested an arm across the back of the booth behind Arthur and pushed a whisky at him with the other. It was a bit early to start with the spirits, but Arthur didn't complain. He gave Eames a nod in thanks, taking a sip, contemplating the taste.
"Like I'd get you the cheap stuff," Eames chided. "No need to look so surprised."
"I didn't," Arthur said with a steady look.
Eames smirked, taking a pull from his beer. "You were thinking it, I could tell."
Arthur could feel the familiar itch of an argument underneath his skin, heating up his blood; it would be so easy to fall into it with Eames, but this wasn't the place, or the time.
"Stop flirting, Eames," Peter said, amused, which surprised Arthur. Apparently he really was an old friend -- not that Arthur had doubted it, but somehow it hadn't quite translated into someone who really knew Eames, knew his habits and was familiar with his tells.
"Spoilsport," Eames retorted, but he leaned back, his expression shifting into something more serious. "So. What's this job, then, that's got you so worried."
"It's not the job," Peter said immediately. "Well, mostly not."
"Victoria, then." Eames said, taking another mouthful of beer.
"Yes." Peter looked down at his hands, picking at his nails. "She insisted on taking the job, even though she knows I have a prior commitment."
Arthur raised his eyebrow, ever so slightly, but Peter noticed.
"That came out sounding wrong, I didn't mean --" He ran a hand through his hair. "It's not that I think she shouldn't do jobs without me, or that we haven't worked with other people over the years, on occasion. She doesn't need supervision. It's not that."
He looked at Eames, eyes pleading. "There are kids involved," he said, like it explained everything.
Apparently, judging by the way Eames' expression shifted, it did.
"I just want someone I trust to have her back, that's all. The job needs a forger -- a good one -- and I can't be there to do it."
"Does she know you called me?" Eames asked, his gaze assessing.
"Yes," Peter said. "We spoke about it before I went hunting for you."
"There must have been other options. Other forgers more easily reached."
"Like I said," Peter shrugged. "I wanted someone I knew I could trust."
The answer made Eames visibly uncomfortable. He took another sip of his beer to cover it up, but Arthur didn't think any of them were fooled.
"How is she, anyway?" Eames asked, and Peter shook his head, his mouth twisting into a rueful smile.
"Maybe if you'd bothered to call us up and ask sometime in the past decade, you wouldn't need to ask?"
"Yeah, well. Been busy. Besides, you're exaggerating -- it's been eight years, tops," Eames said. He glanced at Arthur, almost reluctantly. "Oh, don't look at me like that, darling," -- and there it was again, Arthur thought, seeing Peter's expression from the corner of his eye -- "you don't know what it's like with these people. You give them your phone number and the next thing you know it's 'How are you, Eames,' and 'Do you get enough sleep, Eames,' and 'Are you coming over for holidays, Eames.'"
"Yes," Arthur deadpanned, "it sounds absolutely horrifying."
Eames pouted; Peter started laughing.
"Of course, well done," Eames said. "Do gang up on me, please."
"To be honest," Peter said, "you do kind of deserve it. Just wait until Vicky gets her hands on you."
Eames winced. "Really, there's no need for threats. I'll be a good boy from now on, I promise."
"You'll forgive me if I don't take your word for it," Peter said, lifting his glass to take a drink.
"That's what he said," Eames said with relish, pointing at Arthur.
Peter snorted, then coughed, setting the glass on the table with a thump, his breath wheezing. Eames relaxed, if possible, more fully against the booth and, incidentally, Arthur. He looked entirely too pleased with himself, wearing the sort of smug smile that got people punched for no apparent reason.
"And that's all I need to hear on that topic," Peter said when he got his breath back. "Thanks."
"Oh, the things I could," Eames started, caught sight of Arthur's expression and immediately changed what he was about to say to, "keep to myself and never, ever share with anyone who wasn't there to know from first hand experience. How does that sound, darling? No need for the cold shoulder."
Arthur would've replied, but he just couldn't ignore it anymore. He turned to Peter, purposefully catching his eye. "Alright. What is it."
"Excuse me?" Peter said, but there was a shift in his expression as he spoke, like he'd just realized what Arthur meant. "Oh."
"Oh?" Eames said, looking between them.
"It's just," Peter started, and then looked at Eames with a reluctant expression. "Maybe we haven't had regular contact in the recent years, but I've known you since you were a kid. That -- the way you use pet names with him, it threw me."
Arthur frowned. "But he does it all the time."
"With you." Peter said, looking puzzled. "It still doesn't --"
"No," Arthur interrupted. "With everyone." Didn't he?
Peter looked at him with a raised eyebrow and said, "If that's true, then I obviously don't know him very well anymore. As far as I know, he's never used pet names with anyone, whether he sleeps with them or not. Hell, he doesn't even like using nicknames. But with you, he not only calls you 'darling'; he sounds like he means it. I really didn't think I'd see the day."
"But he," Arthur turned to Eames, confused. "You..."
For a few moments, it didn't compute. He frowned, thinking back; Eames might say things like 'be a dear and' or 'it would be lovely if', but he never actually called anyone by anything but their provided name. Anyone except Arthur, that was.
The realization completely blindsided him. He'd always prided himself for being detail-oriented. How had he never noticed that he was the sole beneficiary of Eames' ridiculous pet name policy?
He supposed he'd had his reasons, however flimsy and repressed, to not notice certain things about Eames over the years. But it grated on him that they'd been together for months, and it had still taken someone hitting him in the face with the truth for him to see it clearly.
Eames was... Arthur did a double take. Eames had slid down in the booth until his chin was almost level with the tabletop. Why, Arthur thought with sudden, sadistic delight, he could see a blush licking at Eames' cheeks. He smoothed his expression over, raising a questioning eyebrow at Eames.
"Uhh..." Eames said. Arthur had never, in his entire life, wanted a camera in his hands as badly as he did at that moment.
Victoria was a tall woman in her mid thirties. She was perched on top of a crate on the stage of an abandoned theater her team was using as a base of operations. She stood up as soon as she saw them trailing in behind Peter.
At the pub, Eames had pushed the conversation back on track with determined air, and while Peter had seemed amused at, as well as a bit puzzled by, Eames' visible fluster, he'd complied.
The job did, indeed, include kids, even if only as collateral damage. A high end custody battle, the grandparents of two children the mother of whom had recently died were desperate not to let the kids go back to their abusive father. There wasn't any indication that he'd laid a hand on the kids -- there seemed to be no proof of abuse taking place at all, in fact -- but their clients had known that their daughter suffered in her marriage, and were determined not to let the children go back to a man who might, they argued, be responsible for the death of their mother.
The job, then, was to find a way to proof in court that the father was not fit to be a custodian, and that giving him the kids might, in fact, mean sending them into danger.
Tricky, Arthur thought, if the man was as careful and cold as described.
"Well," Victoria said, looking Eames up and down. "You clean up nice."
Arthur looked at Eames, trying to see what Victoria saw and failing. Eames was Eames, the same as ever -- his facial hair scruffy, yet neat, his hair combed to the side, wearing an outfit that walked a fine line between tacky and presentable.
"Of course I do," Eames said graciously. "Have to -- I keep classier company than you lot, these days."
Victoria looked at Arthur, from his neat hair and expensive suit to his polished shoes, and raised an eyebrow.
"So I see," she said, holding out a hand. "Arthur, I presume. I'm Victoria."
"It's nice to meet you," Arthur said politely. The handshake was firm and no-nonsense, the kind he'd always appreciated.
"Never thought I'd see you partnered up," Victoria told Eames, looking between them. Peter moved to her side, smiling.
"You don't know the half of it," he said, and Victoria turned to him with a raised eyebrow.
"Oh, do tell," she said, her eyes gleaming.
"Or you could not," Eames said with a lazy grin. "You can gossip to your little hearts' content when I'm not around to suffer for it, alright?"
"That reminds me," Victoria said. "C'mere."
Eames complied, wary, as Arthur looked on, content to be an observer. When Eames was within her reach, Victoria pulled him into a hard hug, then took hold of his shoulders and held him at arm's length.
"It's really good to see you," she said, and punched him in the face.
She didn't seem to hold back any, and Eames staggered, almost went down -- would have, if Arthur hadn't been there to steady him. Arthur didn't remember moving.
"Bloody hell," Eames cursed, holding his jaw. He poked at his bleeding lip with his tongue and Arthur couldn't help himself; he turned his head to give Victoria a chilly glare. "It's okay, d-- Arthur," Eames said, voice slightly muffled. "I deserved that."
"I don't care," Arthur said, frowning at him. He fished a clean handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it against Eames' bleeding lip. Eames winced at the pressure, but nodded his thanks, taking over -- their eyes connected as their fingers brushed against each other. Eames gave him a rueful quirk of lips, shrugging. Arthur rolled his eyes halfheartedly, but smiled back, faintly.
When he looked up, he caught Victoria and Peter staring. Peter attempted a smile. Victoria simply tilted her head in a considering manner and then turned to look at Peter. There was some sort of wordless communication between them, and then Peter nodded, leaving for backstage.
Alright, then," Victoria said, clapping her hands once. "Now that that's over with, let's get to work. My ducklings should be here any minute now."
Eames raised his eyebrows questioningly, briefly lifting the handkerchief from his mouth and running his tongue against his lip again, testing.
"There are three of them," Victoria said about her team. "They aren't newbies -- well, except for Kyle, he's our baby -- but they've only been in the business for a couple of years, at most. Maxine has the most experience. She's twenty-five -- an architect."
"And the third?" Arthur asked, feeling more comfortable stepping in now that they were getting to business.
"Tommy, twenty-two. He's a fledgling forger, but he's not ready for a target like this."
"You wound me, mama," a voice said from behind them, and then a guy with short, black hair and slanted eyes, wearing black jeans and a wildly patterned hoodie, strolled to the stage. His body language was relaxed, his smile sharp.
"He's also an insolent little shit," Victoria said, good naturedly. At Tommy's heels followed a nervous looking, skinny guy with curly hair and pale skin. Kyle, Arthur presumed. He couldn't be more than eighteen.
"Don't listen to her, she loves me, really." Tommy said, his eyes fixed on Arthur and Eames. "Hey, is it true what Pete and Vicky told us? You're really... y'know."
"The best?" Eames said, poking at his lip a little to see if it had stopped bleeding. "We sure are. Anything else, you're gonna have to be a little more specific, kid."
"You're Eames, right? And... Arthur? The real deal?" Tommy said, eyes bright and curious. "You've got some reputation."
"Oh, leave the poor folks alone, Tommy," Peter said as he reappeared with a short, dark skinned woman.
"Yeah, Tommy," the woman said. "Legends shouldn't have to listen to your yapping, show a little respect."
"Shut it, old man -- and you, too, Wonder Woman. I'm a delight."
"Legends?" Eames interrupted, sounding amused. "Really?"
"Well, yeah," Kyle said, opening his mouth for the first time and promptly shutting it, blushing, when everyone looked at him.
"He's right, though," the 'Wonder Woman' said. "I'm Maxine, by the way. It's an honor to meet you."
"Nice to meet you, too," Eames said, and Arhur nodded at her.
At Eames' look, Victoria shrugged, saying, "There are some crazy rumors going around about you guys."
"Huh," Eames said, exchanging a look with Arthur. "Anything particularly interesting?"
"You don't know?" Kyle piped up -- blurted, really, shifting to hide behind Tommy when they turned to look at him.
"We've been vacationing lately," Arthur said mildly.
It was a bit of a lie -- they'd known the word had gotten out on the inception job, but hadn't really looked further into it; reputation only mattered when you needed it, or when it became a hindrance. Besides, they'd been on a break, that much was true, and while they had been in contact with Cobb, Ariadne and Yusuf, they hadn't made much of an effort to keep up with the dream sharing community at large.
"Ah," Tommy said with a smirk, looking between them. "Vacationing."
Maxine slapped him at the back of his head -- not particularly hard, Arthur noted -- and Tommy looked at her, offended.
"Ow, what the hell?" He complained. "Violent much, Wonder Woman."
Maxine rolled her eyes.
"Thank you, Maxine," Victoria said, turning to Eames and Arthur. "I'm sorry. It's like a zoo in here, sometimes."
"I resent that," Tommy said.
"You mean, resemble," Kyle muttered from behind him.
"Okay, enough of that, " Victoria said before Tommy could retaliate, her voice gaining a more serious edge. "No more chit chat, people. Lets get to work."
Arthur felt himself relaxing a little, almost against his will, though to people who didn't know him it probably looked like he stood even straighter. It wasn't that he had a problem with social situations, but... work was so much more satisfying, not to mention easier, even when it was with a bunch of strangers. Well, he thought as Eames looked at him, smiling like he knew what Arthur was thinking; mostly strangers.
The job took five long weeks to prepare for and complete. Since there was a court case, they had a time table and a deadline, and there likely wouldn't be a second chance to try the extraction if the first attempt failed. They decided on two levels, a dream within a dream, which Peter and Victoria, at least, were familiar with, though it turned out that the rest of them had never been on a multiple level job before.
Peter stayed with the team for a month, taking part in planning and assessing practice runs, before leaving for Shanghai on business. Kyle, who turned out to be dependable and quick-minded when it came to the job, stayed in the real world to look after the team and monitor the mark. Arthur was on the first level down with Tommy, making sure everything was ready for when Maxine, Victoria and Eames were kicked up from the second level with the mark and ready to pull them out if anything went wrong.
Despite the preparation and training put into it, Arthur was almost surprised when the job turned out to be a success, the team emerging from the dream with names, dates, witnesses.
The clean up was almost an afterthought -- routine, even for the kids, who were so psyched up with their success they were almost intolerable to be around.
The only thing coming between Arthur and a nice buzz of job success, then, was Eames. It wasn't that anything was wrong, per se. They'd worked together and bickered together and gone back to their hotel together, and everything was fine --
Except that ever since that time in the pub, Eames hadn't called him anything but Arthur, not once. He'd caught several almost-slips, but every time he showed any indication of having noticed, Eames awkwardly dropped the conversation, made a joke, deflected. Preparing for the job had been gruesome and challenging in the best of ways, and Arthur hadn't had the time or energy to address Eames' behavior. If he was honest with himself, he'd been hoping Eames would get over it on his own.
It would mean not having to admit that he actually missed the stupid pet names.
Now that the job was over, he was out of an excuse to keep avoiding the issue. And it was an issue; just because things weren't wrong didn't mean they were right. Arthur could see Eames holding himself back, being less demonstrative not only with his words, but his actions, and it was affecting their dynamic. The thought of this inadvertently damaging their relationship somehow, distancing Eames from him, made Arthur feel cold.
"Peter and Victoria," Arthur said as they were packing up in their hotel room. "Who are they to you, really?"
They'd been out celebrating last night, the whole team except for Peter who wasn't back yet, and wouldn't be for another week. Victoria had cornered Arthur late into the evening, making him promise to use his influence on Eames to make sure it wouldn't be another eight years before they heard from him again.
Victoria was very difficult to say no to.
Eames was silent for long enough that Arthur thought maybe he shouldn't have asked. But he'd kept a lid on it for the entire time they'd been on the job, had trusted in Eames' judgment even though he hadn't really told Arthur anything of substance at all about the people they worked with.
Finally, Eames put down the shirt he'd been folding -- rolling, really -- and ran a hand through his hair.
"I've known them for a long time," he said. "Since before I knew anything about the business."
"A little more than just someone you used to work with," Arthur said mildly. "Peter said he'd known you since you were a kid?"
"So he did." Eames sat on the bed, looking at his hands and then at Arthur. "Technically, he's known me since we were both kids. He's my half-brother."
Arthur didn't say anything, slowly continuing to fold his more casual clothes into the suitcase. He wasn't surprised. They didn't really look alike, but the way they moved, the way they smiled... He nodded.
"You'd already figured it out," Eames said.
"I suspected," Arthur said, his voice light.
"Should've known," Eames mused. His mouth twisted down. "Arthur, it's not... I don't want you to think I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to know, or didn't trust you, or anything of that sort."
"I know," Arthur said. Then, more honest: "Well, I hoped."
"It's just that -- they're my family. And there are some issues, and then I avoided them for a decade --"
"Eight years, tops," Arthur said, quirking his lips, and Eames barked out a laugh.
"Yeah, d- that."
Arthur rested his hands on top of his suitcase, silent for a moment.
"Why do you do that?" He asked before he could talk himself out of it.
"You've been... censoring yourself, ever since Peter made me realize what I should have already known. Did it really embarrass you that much?"
Eames rubbed his lips with his fingers, the cut from Victoria's punch long healed. "I rather thought I might have embarrassed you," he said, shrugging awkwardly.
Arthur turned completely away from his packing, frowning at Eames. "What?"
"You looked so... surprised. And then I thought, maybe you only put up with it because you thought it's just something I do, like you put up with my clothes even when looking at them pains you. The name thing just -- happens, with you, but -- I figured I'd zip it before you told me to."
"Eames," Arthur said seriously, coming to stand in front of him. "You're a moron."
"Thanks, honey, I love you too," Eames rolled his eyes and then seemed to go back over his words, suddenly awkward again.
Arthur flicked him on the forehead.
"What was that for?" Eames said, rubbing the spot with a finger. "Also, ouch."
"You could've just asked. I don't like watching you swallow your words and second-guess yourself." Arthur said, brushing Eames' hand away and touching the red mark gently with his thumb. "I don't want you to do it anymore. Between the two, I'll pick your ridiculous endearments any day, we clear?"
Eames rested his hands on Arthur's hips, tugging him a little closer. "You sure?" He said. "Because I know I can be impossible sometimes, but I don't want you to have to live with anything that makes you uncomfortable."
"It doesn't," Arthur said, meaning it. Then, softer: "You don't."
"Yeah?" Eames said, quiet, his hands sliding up to Arthur's waist and then back down. "Come here then, darling."
Arthur leaned down and into the kiss. It felt like coming home.