Falling in love with someone you’ve barely met is generally a bad idea. Falling in love with someone you’ve just met and hacked into various international government databases with is probably even worse. But the thing is, bad ideas are to Eames as bees are to honey—stinging, and on occasion, the cause of severe allergic reactions.
So when Eames sort of, but not really falls in love with Arthur when they haven’t even found their specialty in this big, bad, dream-sharing world, it’s maybe the worst idea of ever.
But that’s just how stories—the ones worth telling, anyway—go. And Eames is a very big fan of storytelling. It doesn’t really explain how he falls in love with Arthur who he’d just met, but Eames is also a very big fan of a well-tailored suit and guns. So there’s that.
But it isn’t just the way Arthur dresses that’s so enticing, it’s also how he works, ever professional and ever efficient. He works with the kind of intensity that Eames associates with mother bears, a kind of resilient protection and meticulous care, and maybe that’s what really does him in.
He trusts Arthur, and not just because he has to.
So yeah, there’s that, too.
He doesn’t quite know when he crossed professional admiration into outright adoration, but he knows there were neatly fitted waistcoats and militarized projections and Arthur yelling at him no, what the fuck are you doing. Eames, I’m fine—get that fucking safe.
They’re at a bar, celebrating the successful extraction. At some point, Mal and Cobb depart, hand in hand, and Eames realizes too late that Arthur when drunk, is very, very drunk. “I think that’s enough,” he says, cautiously prying Arthur’s fingers off a glass of scotch.
Arthur stares at him, or rather, Arthur tries to stare at him, but ends up crossing his eyes and doubles over in laughter.
“Jesus Christ,” Eames mutters under his breath. Arthur hiccups, and Eames tries very hard not to think about the million and one ways Cobb is going to kill him. “Cobb is going to kill me,” he says aloud.
“Yes,” Arthur agrees loudly.
Eames frowns. “Traitor,” he says darkly, before gently ushering him out of his seat. “Alright, that’s it, up you get.”
“Eames,” Arthur declares as he stumbles over the floor. “I am so fucking wasted.”
“Yes, darling,” he sighs. “I can see that.”
This is very bad, Eames thinks, when they’re stowed away in the back of a taxi, and Arthur has his head in his lap, brushing cold fingers against Eames’ jaw, and Eames is all too aware of how young he looks.
“I am fucked,” Eames says when the fingers linger over his lips, and Arthur’s laugh is lower now, an almost quiet rumble. “Darling, you’ll kill me.”
The hand falls away, and Eames looks down to see Arthur grinning lazily. “My life’s ambition,” he slurs.
It’s very stupid, but Eames threads his own hands through Arthur’s hair, earning a contented sigh, and there’s that stupid sensation in his chest that’s stupidly constricting, and Eames is stupid enough to open his mouth. “Christ, I love you.”
The taxi jerks to a stop outside their hotel, and Arthur lurches forward unceremoniously, laughing in surprise. Eames has one hand tight on his waist to keep him from falling, but Arthur turns the wrong way and ends up tangling himself in Eames’ lap.
“Do you really?” he asks earnestly once they’re inside, Eames half-holding, half-dragging Arthur towards the elevators. He laughs again, and Eames sets his jaw tight when he realizes he’s not drunk enough to laugh along.
“Of course,” he says quietly, punching the number for their floor. “Hard not to be.”
Arthur’s arm tightens around the back of Eames’ neck, and says the words that Eames will never not be smart enough to ignore. “Prove it then.”
Eames is a man of his word, through and through, so when he wakes up in the morning, he wakes up with a grimace. The details of last night are bright in his mind’s eye, taunting and damning. He replays the conversation, even though he shouldn’t, because the not stupid thing to do would be to forget about it, to pretend as though it never happened, but then again, there wouldn’t be a story to tell.
“Yes,” Arthur says firmly, nodding. “Prove it.”
“Prove it how?”
Arthur pauses, eyebrows drawn together tight in concentration. He gives up after a moment, declaring, “Fuck if I know! I’m too drunk to think. Ask me in the morning.”
He makes the resolution not to say anything, but—
At half-past ten, he’s standing in the lobby, waiting for the others when he hears Arthur clear his throat behind him. Eames turns.
“Alive, are you then?” he asks in lieu of greeting. Arthur nods without any indication of a hangover, the bastard.
They stand there for several minutes, Eames glancing around listlessly and Arthur staring straight ahead with the occasional glance at his watch. Eventually, Mal and Dom step out of the elevators, and Arthur turns to him, watches him carefully and says quietly, “About last night.” And Eames is, unfortunately, a criminal with standards and morals and a stupid, stupid adherence to an imaginary honor code, which is why he turns his lips down and says, “Yeah.”
“I have a favor to ask,” he says, lips barely moving and eyes focused on the Cobbs. Eames is surprised enough that he doesn’t answer right away, and then it’s too late. Mal greets them with a kiss on each cheek and asks, “Where are you headed?”
“Dubai,” he answers, returning her smiles.
She steps back and says thoughtfully, “I hear it’s wonderful.”
Sixteen hours later, he’s leaning by the window of his hotel room, staring over the busy streets of Beijing.
He lays low in Beijing for a few weeks. He sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s the whole point. No one ever has the brains to look in the most obvious of places. He lays low in Beijing for a few weeks. He sticks out like a sore thumb, but that’s the whole point. No one ever has the brains to look in the most obvious of places.
No one, except of course, Arthur. Arthur sends him a package three days into his stay. There’s a piece of paper that says Fix this for me, and I don’t mean give me a forgery. The package contains several pieces of shattered glass. It was a vase, the note tells him. A glass vase.
“You’re fucking with me,” Eames says aloud. The glass glares back, rude and unchanging.
It ends up being easier than he’d expected. Eames’ daily wanderings around the alleys of the crowded city yield interesting surprises—a shoemaker who uses only discarded wood and scraps of old silk, a watchmaker whose ticks are two seconds too slow, and a glassblower who melts the shattered pieces and makes Eames a simple vase, once they’d finished pointing a lot and talking loudly in languages one or the other didn’t understand.
It takes a while, but it gets done, and Eames sends it to Arthur’s stateside home, wrapped in plenty of newspaper. He doesn’t hear from Arthur for a while after that.
In fact, it takes a few months, several extractions, and one particularly nasty fiasco that leaves a mark dead and a condominium engulfed in flames for Eames to finally call him.
Arthur picks up on the third ring, because Arthur always picks up when Eames is calling. “I hear Moscow is lovely,” he says.
“I don’t know, Mr. Eames,” comes the quiet reply. “I thought Chicago suited you nicely.” Eames can practically hear the smirk over the phone. Of course Arthur would know about that. Arthur knows everything.
He sighs, even though he knows Arthur won’t sympathize one bit. “Darling, that stings.”
Eames is rewarded with a chuckle and a half-hearted, “Good-bye, Mr. Eames.”
“What?” Eames teases. “No more favors?”
“No,” Arthur says. “Not for now,” and he hangs up, leaving Eames to stare blankly at the air fields, cluttered with planes ready to take him to his many favorite hiding places. He pockets his phone slowly and walks away, back to the streets, back to Chicago.
It’s a funny thing, love. It’s decidedly stupid and dangerous, and it weighs on him in all the wrong ways, but six hours later, Arthur is standing in his hotel room, jacket off and hair mussed.
“I have a challenge,” he breathes against Eames’ skin, and Eames should say no, should’ve always said no, said stop, said fuck you, but he says yes, says yes of course, says anything you’d like, darling.
In the morning, it’s not romantic anymore. In the morning, it’s foolish and frustrating, and Arthur doesn’t stay because Arthur won’t stay.
In the morning, his head is ringing with Arthur’s words, and it’s really damn annoying.
If it counts for anything, it doesn’t take Eames long to finish the task at hand. He goes to a fabric store and buys two yards of the cheapest material in the tackiest pattern he can find. Back in his room, he cuts a hole in the middle of it, large enough for a head to fit through. He sends it off that afternoon with a note that reads Here’s your bloody fucking shirt without seams. Sorry, but I just can’t be arsed to wrap it proper.
It’s getting ridiculous, and Eames is only just beginning to realize that this is highly unfair.
“Arthur,” Eames says slowly when he receives a lumpy package that turns out to be a plain black sweater with a note pinned on telling Eames to wash it white. “You know that I’m not your maid, right?”
There’s a low laugh from the other side of the phone, and yes, Arthur assures him, he does know.
“Then why are you asking me these things?” Because it’s been fun and funny, but there’s a point where the joke wears thin.
“So don’t do them,” Arthur answers as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world, but that’s not the point here because Arthur should know by now that Eames would do anything, no matter how unreasonable.
“It’s not fair, darling,” he says, scuffing his shoes against the sidewalk, one hand holding his cell to his ear, the other clutching the soft fabric. He squeezes his fingers tight, as though he could almost feel Arthur the wool. “You were supposed to be too drunk to remember anything I said.”
“Shouldn’t have said it then,” and the line clicks.
“Manipulative bastard,” he says to dead silence.
He makes the trip to Mombasa because he’s desperate, and he needs that damn sweater permanently out of his life.
“Yusuf!” he barks, none too cordially when he enters a dimly-lit room in the back of some seedy alley. The heat has done nothing for his manners.
“If you’re here to shoot me,” a voice says from behind counters of mismatched vials and dying flames. “I’d rather not come out.”
Eames exhales sharply through his nose and says, more calmly, “Yusuf, I need your help.”
A head pops up near the back, comically distorted by various beakers. “Oh, it’s just you.”
“I’ve come to kill you,” Eames drones, deadpan. “I’ll set your little chemistry set aflame.”
“What can I do for you, Eames?” Yusuf asks, stepping forward, wiping his hands on the front of his clothes.
Eames tosses him the sweater. “I need it white,” he says.
“You couldn’t’ve just bought it like that?”
“No,” Eames replies dully. “Can’t you make up some chemical to turn it white? I don’t care how bad it’ll smell, or how much of it you’ll burn. I just need it white.”
“Has the Somnacin finally made you stupid?” Yusuf asks curiously, looking up at him with eyebrows raised, somehow managing a smile without a hint of condescension or insult. “Why don’t you just bleach it?”
In retrospect, Eames definitely should’ve known that.
The thing with Mal is, Eames doesn’t like her very much. She’s far too grandiose for his tastes, and her sprawling dreamscapes are too vibrant and overdone. Everything about her is just too fantastical, and while Eames can certainly appreciate her enthusiasm and creativity, it’s messy.
Which is why her funeral is completely, utterly wrong.
It’s muted and clean, and the way Arthur stands ramrod straight is much too somber.
Eames fidgets in his place, and he supposes he could squeeze out a few convincing tears, but that’s hardly appropriate. He remembers Mal as someone who was too much for reality, and crying just seems…inadequate.
Cobb is nowhere to be seen which Eames figures probably has something to do with the fact that he’s on the run from local and possibly federal authorities. Because that’s something Eames would do if he were innocent.
He does feel bad, though, when Miles gets up to speak and barely gets through a few words before his voice breaks, and young James is running up to him and clinging to his leg.
Cobb is a moron, he concludes, as well as a mad man and a coward and a few other choice words.
He ducks out before Miles can finish speaking and is contemplating where he could find the nearest bar when someone comes up next to him. It’s Arthur, of course.
“Well, hello,” he says. “I don’t suppose you want me to iron your trousers for you there?”
Arthur doesn’t smile. “Do you want to go?” he asks, eyes level. He seems carefully composed, as usual, even if his black suit is satisfyingly morbid. Arthur also looks very tired.
“Yeah, okay,” Eames hears himself say and steps closer until they’re flush against each other. They stand in silence, and Eames can feel the rise and fall of Arthur’s chest, breaths quick but quiet. “Hello,” he says mildly, for something to do.
“Hello yourself,” Arthur replies with the ghost of a smile.
They go to Arthur’s hotel, and Eames fucks him into the wall, until there’s a hand-shaped bruise on his hips and their skins slip with sweat. Eames fucks him until his gasps stutter and his hair falls out of place, and it’s all Eames can do to keep them upright and remember to breathe.
When they move to the bed and Arthur’s propped up on his elbows, looking up at him, sleepy and sad, Eames notices the string around his wrist. “What’s this?” he asks, curious.
“Hm? Oh, Philippa gave it to me this morning.” Arthur gives him a look that he wants to call “longing,” but the word doesn’t fit quite right.
“That’s lovely,” he says instead.
Arthur hums in response, rolling onto his back and carefully removing the simple bracelet. He hands it to Eames, and Eames looks at it closely. It’s a piece of pink string, tied with a knot.
“Is this the way your heart, darling?” he asks quietly, and Arthur makes a small noise that could be a laugh.
“It isn’t that easy, Mr. Eames. It’d have to be something like a rope of ashes or—”
“Or something more bloody difficult,” Eames finishes for him, sighing for show. “It’s quite alright. I’m flattered by how you think I can do the impossible.”
“Whatever helps you sleep.”
Eames grins at that and shushes him. He’s still contemplating the little craft when he feels Arthur’s breathing even out and thinks, a rope of ashes, before climbing out of the bed and searching his trouser pockets for his lighter.
He lights the string with a flick of his thumb and sets it down on the glass table, watching as the fibers disintegrate to ash.
“The way to your heart,” he murmurs as he moves back into bed, smiling when Arthur unconsciously curls towards him.
They’re locked in a tiny room with no windows, pressed side-to-side. They’re not bound, but Eames has the feeling that isn’t going to help much.
“Darling,” he says, squinting against the pitch-black of the cramped space, feeling around to get an idea of where they could be. “We really must stop meeting like this.”
“Shut up, Eames,” Arthur growls, somewhere near his right. Eames frowns, but doesn’t speak. Instead, he stands up carefully, running his hands against what feels like shelves and sleek drawers.
“Are we in a closet?” he asks, sitting back down.
There’s a pause.
“A pantry,” Arthur says finally, sounding rightfully annoyed.
“A pantry,” he repeats and sighs, sitting down against a wall in defeat. “Well, this is humbling.”
Arthur snorts quietly. “The mark was militarized,” he says, after a moment, and Eames quashes the temptation to declare, ”Well, obviously.” Instead, he asks,
“Are we awake then?”
“Er—” which is more than enough of an answer to make Eames frown and check his pockets. Which are empty. Of course, they’d be empty. Eames can’t even be sure he’d expected them not to be.
He makes a frustrated noise and leans his head against the wall. “Well, I suppose, we’re waiting for a—”
“Eames,” Arthur interrupts firmly, a definite strangled twitch to his voice. “Finish that sentence, and I will fucking skewer you.”
“Arthur,” Eames sighs. “I thought we were making such progress on your temper.”
“I believe we agreed you were an exception.”
Eames raises an eyebrow, and when there’s no response, he remembers that Arthur can’t actually see him. “Well,” he says conversationally. “No. I think we said that I was exceptional.”
“Whatever,” Arthur mumbles.
“You know, darling, I think we are in a dream,” he says. “You’re usually more caustic in reality.”
“Not that I mind—”
“I wish I had a gun—”
“Maybe if we had some music—”
“I would gut you with my cufflinks if I’d still had them—”
“I think we’re bonding—”
“Please, shut up—”
“You know, when I was a child—”
“You were dropped on your head?”
“No—well, yes, but not quite. It was more or less—”
“Eames,” he barks. “Shut up.”
Eames sighs. “Fine,” he grumbles. “I just thought we could share our feelings.”
“That’s usually supposed to come before the sex,” Arthur snorts, and Eames chuckles.
“But that would be boring. No adventure whatsoever.”
“I’m not looking for adventure,” Arthur answers dryly.
“I don’t know, pet, those legs of yours say otherwise.”
Arthur hits him squarely across the chest.
“Ow,” Eames deadpans. “Can you see in the dark?”
“No,” Arthur says, and Eames can almost hear the smile in his voice. “I just see you.”
“Oh, Arthur,” he purrs, grinning widely now. “I’m touched.”
Arthur resolutely ignores him for the next several hours, and Eames is forced to pass the time by counting out the seconds in his head. He’s tried throwing his weight against the door, but it doesn’t budge, so he gives up, concluding that yes, they must still be in a dream because there is no way such a flimsy piece of drywall shouldn’t be toppling under his impressive strength.
“So,” he says, nudging Arthur’s knee with his foot. “We’re stuck.”
“I think our next course of action should be to wish upon a star,” Eames nods.
“It’s not like we can see the stars,” Arthur snorts, ever irritatingly practical. Eames waves him off.
“When we get out of here, I will count every single star for you,” he promises, and Arthur makes a noise that could either be exasperation or murderous. He can’t tell.
It’s as though Eames has spoken the magic words, because at that moment, the door swings open, and they both blink in rapid succession, blinded by the influx of light.
Cobb stand over them, gun in hand, several projections lying motionless behind him.
“Are you alright?” he asks, breathing hard.
“We’ve been locked in a pantry,” Arthur answers, unimpressed, and Eames laughs.
Dom shoots them, Arthur first, and Eames eases him onto the floor before a shot goes straight through his chest.
Later, as they’re packing away the PASIV and Eames is adding a few extra drops of sedative under the mark’s tongue in vengeance, Arthur brushes past him, fingers lingering for a moment on his back. “Don’t forget your promise,” he says, not looking at Eames, but smiling nonetheless.
Eames smiles at him and shakes his head. “Never, darling. Never.” And he doesn’t, because a few days later, Arthur finds a snowglobe filled with tiny glittering stars on his work desk. 97, reads the Post-It stuck to its side. Counted them myself.
Arthur wants to think that this is impossible—Eames is in Cairo; Arthur, Moscow—but he’s beginning to learn that impossible, isn’t really in Eames’ vocabulary.
Eames can hardly believe that it’s been almost eight years since he first met Arthur, slim and succinct (that’s the word Eames has decided to use in describing Arthur. Succinct. Like the sentence). In this time, Eames has decided that Arthur isn’t very clever; everyone else in the world is just less so. Including Eames, of course.
Eames has also decided that eight years ago, when he thought he’d been in love with Arthur, he hadn’t been. No, really.
It was just some seriously deep-seated infatuation. A seriously deep-seated infatuation that made his chest tighten in ways that would never show up on an ECG and made him do stupid things like count the number of pieces of confetti in a bloody snowglobe.
But no, that wasn’t love. It didn’t count.
But he will admit that he has some very strong feelings for Arthur, because that’s the only explanation he can come up with as to why he’d just agreed to find a paper that could wrap fire. Honestly.
“You really have to stop taking advantage of me,” he complains, when Arthur presses a kiss to his shoulder. “It’s unbecoming.”
Arthur looks up at him, not even bothering to raise an eyebrow. It’s all in the stare.
“It’s just something to think about,” he says innocently. “I’ve told you before, you really don’t have to do this.”
Eames doesn’t answer because he’s got a bastard of a pride streak that even this six-year-long game can’t deter. Instead, he kisses the top of Arthur’s head, carding his fingers through the unslicked hair and rolls them over because it’s Sunday and yeah, it’s Sunday.
Love’s got nothing to do with it.
“You really must work on your imagination, darling,” he sighs as he licks the curve of Arthur’s waist, hands gripping his thighs. “You could’ve challenged me with something that wasn’t out of my bedtime storybook.”
Arthur huffs a laugh. There’s a shake in his voice when Eames decides now would be a great time to bite on the underside of his arm. “Yeah, well,” he says with a smile. “It’s already taken you six years. Anything more creative, and we’d be here for decades.”
Eames chuckles, rubbing the side of his cheek against Arthur’s shoulder, purring. “Arthur, I knew you cared,” he says, pleased, a hand pressing gently to Arthur’s hip. “How many more of these do I have to drag out anyway?”
Arthur’s sighs into the pillow, eyes slipping shut as Eames presses against him. “Just one,” he whispers, and Eames leans in to kiss the side of his mouth. “Just the one.”
Later, Eames will fuck into him slow and gentle, and Arthur’s fingers will clench pale-white around the bedsheets. Eames will hold him, one arm wrapped around his waist, as he takes each thrust, gasping when Eames hits just the spot. He will tremble and shake, and Eames will steady him as he whispers yes, yes, yes.
Later, Eames will think, no, this isn’t love. It’s far too grand.
Eames is in Paris. Eames is in a warehouse.
Eames is in Sydney. Eames is on a plane.
Eames is in a dream. Arthur is in a dream. Eames is in a dream, and Arthur’s jaw is set tight, eyes flashing dangerously because it’s not his fault, it isn’t his fault, how could he know, Cobb, calm down.
Eames will walk away. He’s not about to let a mad man kill him dead. Except, he has to stay because if he dies here, he drops to Limbo. If he dies the next level down, he drops to Limbo. If he dies, if he dies, if he dies.
“So don’t die,” Yusuf sighs, exasperated, when no one else will hear. “Let’s finish the job, get paid, and get out.”
“That’s brilliant,” Eames says dryly. “Really brilliant.”
“Well, don’t be so excited.”
“If—” he glances around quickly, making note that Ariadne is standing a little too close, and drops his voice further. “—If we get out, I’m never working with you again.”
“Oh, that’s effective,” Yusuf replies coolly. “Because I’m just begging to work with you crazy fuckers for the rest of my life.”
Eames shakes his head and moves over to Ariadne, smiling nonplussed. “See here, sweetheart,” he says, taking her by the arm and nodding towards the van. “This is what you do when you want your team to mutiny.”
Ariadne raises an eyebrow and says, “Cobb knows what he’s doing,” to which Eames lets her go, shaking his head because it’s clear insanity is contagious.
“We are going to get out, aren’t we?” he asks, several minutes later when Arthur emerges and pulls off his ski mask, looking vastly annoyed.
“Yes,” Arthur says, too quickly. Eames doesn’t press, just hmm’s his disagreement and steps fluidly into one Peter Browning. He’s got a job to do, after all.
Everything goes to shit. Repeatedly.
Eames is in a plane, and Cobb is in Limbo. Eames only has a handful of minutes to enjoy that.
Cobb wakes up. Saito wakes up. They are all in Los Angeles.
What a pity, Eames thinks.
Eames follows Arthur out of LAX, careful to stay several yards behind, save for the moment he doesn’t. “Excuse me, darling,” he says, out of breath when their shoulders collide, and Arthur turns to look reflexively. He presses his hand briefly to the small of Arthur’s back. “Sorry,” he says.
He takes a taxi to Hollywood and Highland. Another, different cab never leaves his periphery.
The Renaissance sits as subtle as Eames remembers, and he tips his driver generously, before hefting his bags through the door of the hotel. He checks in under S. Eams and pulls his luggage towards the elevators, stepping into one as soon as it arrives. Arthur does not follow.
Eames leaves his things in the middle of his room, pausing only to change into a more sun-friendly t-shirt. The door clicks shut behind him, and his hand rests on the handle momentarily before he sets off for the elevators, humming to himself.
He makes his way over to the Kodak Theatre, stopping to lean against the railings and search out the infamous HOLLYWOOD sign in the glaring afternoon light. He smiles politely when tourists accidentally jostle into him in their haste to snap a photo, and he watches them with an unguarded interest. He’d been to Los Angeles enough times that the novelty of it had already worn off, but it was always nice to see someone so excited over a few letters on a hillside.
A moment later, he feels someone move into the space next to him, and he smiles to himself.
“Well, there’s that,” he says in lieu of greeting. Arthur shifts beside him, chuckling.
“Yeah,” Arthur concedes. “There’s that.”
They stand together for a few minutes, just staring off, the magnitude of they’ve just accomplished barely within grasp. Eames glances over, taking in Arthur’s relaxed form, all rumpled plaid and sandals. He looks like Los Angeles, and Eames can’t help but reach around and rest his arm against Arthur’s waist. Arthur lets him.
“I have a paper lantern in my suitcase,” he says off-handedly, breaking the silence, and Arthur turns his head. He’s watching Eames carefully, but assured, and when he smiles, Eames can count the creases around his eyes. He kisses Arthur then, slow and easy, like it’s nothing new at all, and Arthur doesn’t make a sound, just kisses him back, equally lazy and unrestrained.
“You know how this ends?” he asks evenly, when they break apart.
“You get a tiara, and I rule a kingdom?” Eames replies easily, knocking Arthur’s hip with his own. Arthur laughs, and Eames thinks of what he wouldn’t do to hear that again. “I know how this ends,” Eames assures him. “I’ve read the story.”
Arthur folds his arms together, but leans in, sinking into a relaxed slouch as people continue to pass by, not sparing them a glance. “I know you have,” he says, and they stay there for a while longer, watching the sun glint off the W.
Eames keeps a hand pressed lazily to the side of Arthur’s waist as they make their back to the hotel. Arthur doesn’t object and lets their shoulders bump one too many times for it to be coincidence, until it stops bumping and just sort of starts resting against him. (Eames’ chest is having odd flippy tremblings right now, and he is trying very hard not to look like something out of a teenage romcom because he’s thirty-four and that would be so many levels of creep. Or it could be heartburn. He’s thirty-four, and airline food has never agreed with him.)
They ride the elevator up to the eighth floor, and Eames is a gentleman and opens the door for Arthur to step through. Eames shuts the door behind him and turns to find Arthur watching him with an unreadable expression.
“What?” he asked, running a hand through his hair. “Something on my face?”
“I keep waiting for you to walk away,” Arthur says, and he laughs, uneasy and the faint flush of his cheeks suggest a hint of shame. Eames is maybe a little bit hypnotized.
“I, uh—what?” he asks intelligently.
Arthur gestures vaguely at him, and Eames blinks, uncomprehending.
“I thought you’d get bored by now,” Arthur revises, and Eames just stares and stares because that is the most ridiculous thing he’s ever heard. Logical. But ridiculous.
“That’s ridiculous,” he says, and Arthur laughs, and it’s a nice laugh, even though it’s nervous and shaky, and Eames leans forward and drags Arthur in by the neck of his shirt and kisses it out of him, kisses him until he’s breathless and shaking for an entirely different reason.
Eames pulls away and motions for Arthur to sit, and Arthur does, right at the edge of the bed, and his lips are swollen and cherry red, watching curiously as Eames opens his duffel bag and pulls out a toy paper lantern.
“It’s electric,” Arthur notes, not sounding as disappointed as he could be.
“It sings,” Eames adds helpfully and flicks it on, demonstrating.
It does, indeed, sing. And quite shrilly.
“Well, that’s enough of that,” Eames says, shutting off quickly and placing it on the floor, where if he’s lucky, Arthur will step on it accidentally and more or less crush it to its death.
Arthur is looking at him with the same kind of wonder he usually reserves for enticingly complex mazes and flashy (illegal) firearms. Eames stares back at him shamelessly, because as much as he loves seeing Arthur at work, Arthur off the job is even better. He’s visibly relaxed in his wrinkled shirt, and Eames would make fun of his board shorts if they didn’t show off Arthur’s legs so nicely. It’s nothing like the stringent and stubbornly determined point man he can be, but it’s still inherently Arthur because even though it’s probably the most L.A. surfer thing Arthur owns, it still manages to look like it was made especially to fit him, like those buttons were sewn just so and the nylon exactly cut to fit the curve of his ass.
“Eames,” Arthur starts, and Eames is moving towards him, kneeling between his legs, running a hand down the back of his calf. “Eames.”
Arthur is still looking at him like he might dissolve to dust, and Arthur raises a hand to run his fingers along the side of Eames’ jaw. He leans down then, and Eames lifts his head, closes his eyes when he feels the touch of Arthur’s lips against his. It’s slow and quiet, and Eames pants into it, ever slight, and Arthur turns his head just enough so their foreheads rest against each other.
They stay like that until their breaths become synchronized, until Eames can’t help but push in, running his tongue along the edges of Arthur’s teeth. When Arthur gasps, Eames pulls back and kisses Arthur through his shirt, mouthing the cotton until it’s wet and dragging against Arthur’s skin. He moves lower, tonguing his way to Arthur’s abdomen, then hip, then thigh, until his mouth tastes of different fabric blends and Arthur’s breaths come uncharacteristically fast.
“Eames,” Arthur says when Eames moves to kiss the inside of his wrist. “It wasn’t that I never wanted this.” And Eames has to laugh because that much has been made pretty clear already, and Arthur smiles down at him, wistful. “I’m not good at this,” he says as warning. “At these things.”
Eames knows this, knows that he isn’t talking about sex, knows that it’s about this and this not-love, and says as much. “I’m not much better,” he supplies truthfully. “I’ve never wanted your pity, and I wouldn’t have gone on with all this if I thought that’s what this was.”
“I know,” Arthur says when Eames kisses the inside of his knee. “I just wasn’t sure about you or this or anything, really. And I just wanted—”
“To take unnecessary precautions?” and Arthur laughs and kicks out at him gently. Eames catches his foot with ease and smiles up at him. “Don’t worry yourself, darling,” he says, pressing a thumb to Arthur’s ankle. “I’ve got you.”
Arthur believes him and lets him, lets Eames kiss his mouth, his shoulder, his chest, lets him kiss the junction of his neck, the dip of his waist and lets him in.
“You’re a cheat,” Arthur says when the sun is setting low and a sliver of a light falls at the foot of the bed. He’s smiling, hair mussed and nicely tangled.
Eames lifts his head. “Hm?”
“You’re a cheat,” Arthur repeats, yawning. “I said there would be seven things, and you only did six.”
Eames frowns and counts back in his head. “Huh,” he comments. “Yes, I suppose that’s true, but I have the seventh thing.” And before Arthur can say anything, Eames pushes himself out of bed and pulls back the curtains all the way, letting the glow of the twilight fill the entire room.
Arthur is watching him, smile still in place, and says, “It’s still cheating if you took that out of a storybook.”
“No, it isn’t,” Eames argues as he pads back to the bed, pressing himself against Arthur's warm body. “It’s research.”
Arthur doesn’t laugh, but there is a suspicious twitch in his lips that Eames only sees because he’s waiting for it.
So here are the 7 tasks that Google so lovingly helped me pick out:
1. Mending broken glass
2. a shirt without seams
3. washing black wool white
4. rope from ashes
5. Count all the stars in the sky
6. fire wrapped in paper
7. Get Arthur something that will fill the whole room