Arthur likes concision, and specificity. He enjoys choosing the best words and phrases to express exactly what he means; language a means to reach a goal, and at the same time a worthy objective in itself.
When he’s fourteen, he reads an article about law and the way its practitioners use language, and from that moment on, he knows he will be a lawyer. It isn’t until he’s halfway through law school on a scholarship that he figures that he likes criminal law best; because he believes in right and wrong, even though his definition does not always match anyone else’s, because it confronts you with the deepest and darkest corners of humanity, because nowhere else do technicalities have such an impact and such consequences.
He’s hired by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York straight out of law school, the youngest Assistant U.S. Attorney in the State of New York, and it’s everything he’s ever wanted.
“Agent Eames,” Arthur says with a curt nod. He believes, strongly, in professionalism. Sadly, Agent Eames, FBI does not share this belief.
“Darling,” the man drawls and Arthur musters his suits (atrocious, the colours are terrible and the material looks worn-- but he has to admit they fit well) and frowns.
“I’m hardly anyone’s darling,” he responds, infusing his voice just a little with steel. He’s a public prosecutor, he has the highest success rate in the whole office despite his age, he’s faced hardened criminals and their lawyers (he’s not sure which of the two should be more frightening) and won. They might be on the same side, but that doesn’t give Eames a right to call him pet names.
Eames shrugs. “Beer?”
It’s not the first time Eames has asked Arthur out for drinks, but so far Arthur’s always declined. As attractive as the man is (very, if Arthur’s honest with himself, which, regarding this, he tries not to be. It’s more of an omission than a lie), Arthur doesn’t really socialise much with anyone from work, much less FBI agents he knows only in a professional fashion. Tonight, though Arthur has just spent several hours in court and won, mostly because he’s damn good at keeping his cool during cross examinations and remembering all the facts and got the suspect – Jackson - so tangled up in his own statement that he broke and confessed right there, in court, Arthur nods and follows Eames to the closest bar.
He’s only doing it because it was Eames who collected most of the information on the Jackson case and apprehended him in the first place, really. It has nothing to do with the way his dress shirt stretches over his chest and the shoulder holster shows just the slightest bit under the suit jacket.
The first words Agent Eames says to Arthur when he drops off the first compilation of facts on Ben Jackson is this: “They told me you were young, but they left out that you’re so pretty, darling.”
Arthur bristles all the way through the ensuing conversation, barely hiding the way the condescension grates on him under cold glares and icy replies. Agent Eames has tattoos peeking out under an imperfect suit, his British accent is jolting and his gaze too languid and slow, gliding over Arthur again and again.
It isn’t until he’s read through the folder twice that Arthur admits to himself that despite this, Agent Eames appears competent.
They settle into the bar as though they’re old friends, as though they do this regularly. The Jackson case was the first time they came in contact with one another, but even Arthur can admit that while Eames is far from professional, he seems competent. He can respect that.
Eames brings two beers to the table Arthur’s found, at the back of the bar because he likes to be able to keep an eye on things.
“To a case well solved,” Eames proposes and Arthur can’t help but smile, still riding the high of adrenaline and success that comes with pleading in court, with waiting for the judgement, with winning. “To putting the bastard behind bars.”
It should be uncomfortable. Arthur isn’t good with people outside the courtroom or his office, has never known how to let go of control enough to relax and enjoy the company of others; he’s not even sure he likes Agent Eames (part of him does, instinctually, but a much larger part is wary).
It should be uncomfortable, but the silence that stretches after the first drink seems easy.
“You know, love, I’m beginning to think I should’ve taken the bet that said I wouldn’t get you to a bar. Could’ve won me a lot of money tonight.” Eames is smirking and Arthur is torn between anger that there’s people making bets involving him and wondering whether he’s really already made a name for himself at the FBI. He’s worked with a number of FBI agents before, taken cases from them, but never Eames and not frequently enough to be known already.
He raises an eyebrow in silence, and Eames nods to a guy sitting by the bar, dark curly hair. “Yusuf,” Eames says very slowly, mouth quirking, “is a terrible influence on me.”
“I find that hard to believe, Agent Eames.” Arthur keeps his face impassive, but he knows from the way Eames’ eyes light up with obvious amusement that Eames can tell that the corners of his mouth want to curl up.
“I’m afraid you’ve found me out.” The words are accompanied with a dramatic gesture and Arthur doesn’t know why the image of Eames clutching his chest amuses him so much, but it does.
The man isn’t even his type, he tells himself.
This is Arthur’s routine:
He gets up at 6a.m. on workdays. He spends half an hour reading the paper while drinking coffee that the automatic and programmable coffee-maker he bought with his first paycheck makes. Those thirty minutes are absolutely necessary to wake up; Arthur is certainly not a morning person. (He considers this a flaw.)
At 6.30a.m. he showers. After, he puts on a suit – he’s been building up his wardrobe, one suit, dress shirt and tie at a time – and smoothes back his hair. It makes him look older than he is, pronounces his cheekbones and takes away the air of innocence that he despises, when his hair curls and flops into his face.
At 6.50a.m. he eats two toasts and drinks the rest of his coffee, mind going over the plans for the day. He has a moleskin diary that he uses, meticulously. Its main function is to keep his brain from getting hung up on the details; once he writes them down, his mind will stop going over them again and again.
At 7.30a.m., Arthur starts working, immerses himself in whatever case he is currently dealing with, researches precedent or pleads in court.
He usually takes lunch around 12.30p.m. or a little later, depending on what work he is doing and how well it is going.
There is no fixed time at which Arthur leaves the office, that also depends on the work. After, he fixes himself dinner: something small and easy. Arthur can cook and cook well, a skill he taught himself with countless cooking books and trials and one that he is proud of. It simply does not seem worth the effort to cook for himself.
After dinner (spent watching the news because he hardly remembers the first ten articles or so he looks at in the morning), he goes to the gym and works out for an hour. There is a routine for that, too. He may greet a few of the other regulars, but mostly he keeps to himself, iPod cranked up until the outside world bleeds away and it’s just the music, Arthur and whatever machine he is working on.
In the weekends, he allows himself to sleep in a little longer. There’s no routine then: sometimes he’ll visit the Cobbs, sometimes a museum, other times he’ll wander through New York, exploring. He reads a lot, articles in the two law journals he’s subscribed to and books borrowed from the closest library.
It’s a lifestyle that suits him well.
Arthur feels more relaxed than he has in a long time. He’s not sure whether that’s to do with the alcohol or with the fact that for once, he’s allowed himself to do something other than work or work-out.
It’s not that he’s lonely, or that he even particularly likes spending time with others – he’s always been happy with his own company – but it seems sometimes even he needs to get out of his head.
The loose-limbed feeling disappears two seconds after Eames pushes him against the wall in a secluded spot near the exit of the bar, muttering “Darling,” against his mouth and pressing his body against Arthur’s. Those two seconds, Arthur lets Eames kiss him, soft lips and motion and wet pressure, and it’s good and he wants-- and then he remembers who he is and where they are and puts both hands on Eames’ shoulders, not to pull him closer but to push him away. New York has legalized gay marriage and this isn’t about the fact that Eames is very much male. It isn’t very professional, Arthur thinks, to let anyone push him against a wall in an alley by a bar, the gender hardly matters. Arthur swallows against Eames’ lips, dryly. He’s worked too hard for the image he has now to risk that, and surely there would be rumours, whispers.
There’s a brief flash of panic when Arthur realizes that for all that he works out, Eames is heavier and the extra weight is all muscle and if Eames didn’t want to, Arthur would probably not be able to move him. Eames takes a step back, a calculating look in his eyes that’s replaced quickly by something more guarded and at the same time more harmless-looking. Arthur doesn’t trust that look at all.
“You disappoint me, darling,” Eames says, rubbing one hand over his jaw, “I really thought I’d get to take you home tonight.”
“That would hardly be professional, Agent Eames.”
Arthur leaves Eames standing by the bar and catches a cab home.
It’s not that Arthur doesn’t date, or that he has issues.
Fact is, he’s only been working at the public prosecutor’s office for eleven months at this point. He knows he’s very good at what he does, but he still feels he has to prove himself at times. Arthur’s come from nothing and built everything for himself. He’s unwilling to let anything risk that for ill-advised cheap thrills. (He can’t deny that it had been a thrill.)
His mother always told him he was a perfectionist, even at age thirteen. He remembers it well, the way she’d smile and it would be a little proud and a little sad both, as if she’d known that he’d make it far and that it would cost him.
Or maybe he’s reading too much into the memory. It’s one of the few clear ones he has of her, too many of the others blurred and fading at the edges.
If he hadn’t been accepted into law school, or if he hadn’t received that scholarship, Arthur would have gone into the army.
He wonders, sometimes, how different his life would have been.
Arthur researches Daniel Howard Eames. He should, perhaps, feel bad for the invasion of privacy, but Arthur’s always liked knowing things about people, has made it his business to know as much as he can about those he’s in contact with. He doesn’t use the knowledge to gossip or hold it above people’s heads; he just want to understand.
Besides, he has access to Eames’ CV, so it isn’t even as though he’s prying.
Eames was born and raised in London. A quick background check of his parents’ names reveal that his father appraises art and his mother’s name appears on any number of gallery websites in any number of functions. They seem to be filthy rich.
Arthur tries to imagine what it must be like to grow up in that world, and can’t.
They moved to New York when Eames was sixteen. Arthur stares at the black and white lines of the CV, but it can only tell him facts, not reasons.
Even though Arthur pays little attention to office-gossip, even he’s heard of Eames’ conquests and of the flirting. For something like that to make it’s way from the FBI to the Prosecutor’s Office—
Arthur closes the file and goes back to work, resolutely not thinking of Eames for the rest of the day.
“I heard about the Jackson case.” Dominic Cobb has never been particularly good at following social rules, and Arthur is used to hearing such things in lieu of a hello whenever he shows up on Dom’s doorstep. At this point, he’d probably be shocked if Dom actually greeted him like a normal person.
“News travel fast,” Arthur mutters, because the Jackson ruling only came Friday afternoon and it’s Saturday evening now. Arthur would feel bad for inviting himself to Dom’s place, but both he and his wife Mal have made it very clear that Arthur is always welcome.
Some days, he’s still amazed by the friendship the Cobbs offer him, even though it’s been two and a half years since he first sat in Prof Cobb’s lectures on the procedural criminal law and aced the course, but the drink with Agent Eames (and what followed, mostly what followed) has shaken him up a little more than he’d like to admit and next to his work, the Cobbs are the most familiar thing he knows.
They settle in the living room and order Chinese. Both Mal and Dom cook and cook well, but Mal is eight months pregnant and says she just doesn’t feel like cooking and Dom suggests Chinese and here there are. Arthur offered to cook for them, once. After, they always said they didn’t want him to go through the trouble. He’d take that for a flimsy excuse not to have to eat what he cooks, but he knows it was delicious, just as he knows that they really don’t need him to cook them three course meals as a silent thank you.
Phillipa, their youngest and still (for another month) only child, calls him Uncle Arthur and settles on his lap and it feels a lot like home and like family, and he feels like a weight is lifting off his shoulders.
It’s silly that one kiss, unwanted or not – and it wasn’t, not really, no matter what he would like to tell himself – can throw him for such a loop.
Mal and Dom don’t ask, and Arthur’s grateful for that.
Arthur finds a note with a phone number in the suit he was wearing when Eames kissed him. It isn’t signed.
He wonders when Eames managed to slip him the number.
Arthur considers texting, perhaps to ask why Eames kissed him. Something in his stomach curls, hot and wanting, at the thought. It feels juvenile, though.
Arthur isn’t interested in flirtations, or in becoming anyone’s conquest.
He doesn’t hear or see anything from Agent Eames in the week following their evening in the bar, or the week after. Arthur feels justified in his assumption that all Eames wanted was a quick fuck. He thinks it should make him feel better, to know that he’s right, but he remembers the slide of Eames’ lips against his and feels—not sad, but perhaps lonely.
He pushes the thought away and focuses on work.
Arthur still doesn’t know what Dominic Cobb saw in him, other than the obvious: that he was hard-working and intelligent. Those are qualities any professor should appreciate in his students, granted, but they’re not qualities that normally lead to the professor essentially adopting the student.
Arthur’s spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with Dominic and Mal for the last two years, instead of pretending the holidays are just like any other day in the week.
Fact is, the Cobbs are the closest thing to family Arthur has these days.
Arthur doesn’t throw away the number Eames gave him, even after he’s decided that he won’t call or text.
Arthur is at the main office of the New York FBI in Manhattan. Another investigation has gotten to the point that prosecution is in the cards now and Arthur’s workload has lightened considerably now that the Jackson case is off the table, so he’s the obvious choice for taking this one.
He’s not sure whether he hopes that his path will not cross Eames’ or whether he’d prefer to run into him. Perhaps the latter, he thinks, just for closure and clarity.
He doesn’t see Eames, but runs into Yusuf, the forensics expert Eames pointed out to him in the bar. Yusuf gives him a long look Arthur can’t read at all.
James is born in late September. Dominic and Mal are over the moon, Phillipa takes well to being an older sister and Arthur is genuinely happy for them.
Someday, he thinks, he wants what they have: not just the love that Mal and Dom share, that shines through in everything, but a family.
It seems perfect. Arthur should have known it wouldn’t last.
Mallorie Cobb is a trained psychologist, and somehow that makes it all the harder to believe that it happened, that she didn’t seek help. She’s always been a person to feel things strongly, to give herself completely to whatever emotion dominated, and perhaps it makes sense or perhaps that is simply Arthur’s mind trying to cope, trying to find a way to make sense of things.
Arthur blames himself for not seeing the signs earlier, and Dom isn’t there to tell him that’s just human because Dom, more than anyone else including Arthur, blames himself.
What happens is this: Mal kills herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.
In hindsight, there’s talk of textbook post-partum depression or even psychosis. Dom shows Arthur the letter she left (and showing is only a nicer and more general term for: Dom presses a piece of paper into Arthur’s hand, looking broken and shattered and nothing at all like the man Arthur knows, and leaves the room without a word) and she mentions thinking of harming James, harming their baby and how she can’t live with herself, how the children will be safer without her in the world.
Arthur believed that what Dom and Mal had was as close to perfection as it could get. Their story gave him faith that things like love and family were more than unattainable fantasies driven by commercialism and chick flicks.
He folds the letter, carefully and precisely, and goes to find Dom. No matter how bad Arthur may feel about Mal’s death, he cannot begin to imagine what Dom feels.
The Cobbs have been there for him, now he must return the favour, to the remaining three of them when it should be four and they shouldn’t be needing him at all.
Arthur calls in sick. It’s the most unprofessional – and the most human – thing he’s done in his entire career.
Arthur plans the funeral and ensures that there’s sufficient food in the house, that Phillipa and James are fed and get to bed on time. These things are easy to take care of for someone as skilled at organization as Arthur is, so long as he doesn’t let himself think about why they are necessary.
It gets worse when Phillipa starts asking where her mother is. Arthur doesn’t know what to tell her, just as he doesn’t know how to fix Dom, how to fix any of this.
In the end, Arthur does the only thing he can think of:
He punches Dom in the face.
“Look at me,” he demands, and when Dom does, eyes dark and bruised- not from the punch but from emotion: “Your children need you. I can’t be around to look after them forever, and even if, they need their father. I get you’re—hurting, but for fuck’s sake, Dom, you’re not the only one. They need you.”
Arthur wants to add that he needs Dom, too, that he needs his friend, but he’s not that selfish.
The next day is the day of the funeral. Arthur’s made sure that Dom’s best black suit is clean, his shirt ironed. He’s helping Phillipa dress in a dark dress he ordered online when Dom comes in, gives him a strange look and mutters, “I can take it from here.”
Arthur’s happy to leave him to it.
At the funeral, Dom stands with Phillipa next to him and James in his arms. They make a striking picture: grieving, but together.
Arthur takes care of things, ensuring that everything goes off without a hitch. He doesn’t notice how exhausted he is until everything is over and he goes home for the first time since Dom called him, saying nothing but “Mal’s, Arthur, she’s dead.”
He hasn’t let himself think about what that means.
With careful, measured movements, Arthur takes off his suit jacket and hangs it over a chair, rolls up his shirt sleeves and takes out the bottle of bourbon that Dom gave him three years ago. The bottle is still mostly full.
He takes out a glass and fills it, settles the bottle and the glass on the table by his couch. After a moment, he adds a second glass. Every motion, every breath is controlled. Arthur downs the contents of the first glass, fills them both up.
If he lets himself think, it’ll all be over. While James and Phillipa were around, while Dom needed him, it was easy to lose himself in what needed to be done. He doesn’t have that luxury now and the thought of Mal is ghosting along the edges of his mind. What he needs is to not think, to keep himself distracted, to keep it all at bay a little longer until it won’t feel real anymore.
Arthur sits down with his phone and the number he found in his suit, and dials.
“I thought you’d never call, darling, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
Arthur takes a very deep breath, letting it out slowly. “Would you like to come over?”
Please, he thinks. Please.
Arthur didn’t date in law school; he spent most of his time studying, determined to prove himself worthy of the scholarship he received. Somehow, there was never time.
He goes on a number of dates with a girl called Stella after the States Attorney’s Office hires him, but she tells him on the phone that he’s clearly married to his work and shouldn’t try playing at a relationship when he’s not ready or willing to commit.
Arthur can admit that she may have a point.
Eames shows up on his doorstep, jeans and a v-necked jumper that clings to his arms and hangs loose everywhere else, tattoos peeking out. He looks like he hasn’t shaven in a while and Arthur puts a hand to his own jaw, clean-shaven, before he can stop himself.
Eames’ eyes follow the movement.
“Come in, please,” Arthur says and keeps his voice carefully neutral and his emotions on a tight leash. He can’t break now, not just yet. He’s been steadily drinking since just before he called and the alcohol’s dulling the edges and putting everything in stark contrast all at the same time. He steps back and Eames walks in.
Eames wears masculinity and confidence like a second skin, or a well-loved cologne, and Arthur wants to bury his face against Eames’ skin and breathe that in, steal some of it for himself. Eames seems solid.
“You look dreadful.” Eames gives him an obvious once-over and his face shifts into something like a leer, but there’s a softness in his voice that keeps Arthur’s hackles from rising, something that makes him want to crack.
“I have bourbon,” he tells Eames and nods to the table by the couch. They sit down, sides brushing and Eames’ eyebrows rising to his hairline, but he takes the glass and drinks, throat working. Arthur can’t tear his eyes away when Eames licks his lips once he’s emptied the glass.
“I’d almost say you’re trying to seduce me, love, but why don’t you just tell me what’s wrong instead?”
Arthur wonders how it’s so easy for Eames to read him and then mentally berates himself for the thought. Of course he’s easy to read right now. He can barely keep his hands and voice from shaking. He knows there were moments when he was more vulnerable, but they seem very far away at the moment.
“Would I need to seduce you, Mr Eames?” Arthur asks, and doesn’t wait for an answer.
He leans over and kisses Eames, tasting bourbon and a little sweat, his hands coming up to rest on Eames’ shoulders, twisting into the material of the sweater that is surprisingly soft. Every breath, every movement of his lips against Eames’ and every circle his thumb rubs against Eames’ collar bone is a question, a plea. Distract me, let me fall apart, catch me, let me, please, let me--
Eames catches on quickly enough, lips sliding against Arthur’s, a little wet, tongue darting between Arthur’s lips. There’s a sensuality to Eames that Arthur didn’t let himself see before, couldn’t allow himself to appreciate. He does, now, resolve and control breaking with a soft sound at the back of his throat, and then he is practically crawling into Eames’ lap, pressing himself against Eames and his eyes tightly closed.
They’re both hard. Arthur’s almost surprised, not at Eames’ erection but his own. He shifts, presses closer and catches the groan with his mouth, chases the sound away with lips and tongue and a hint of teeth.
He wants—he doesn’t know what he wants, but he thinks that Eames can give it to him: A good fuck, oblivion, absolution, maybe just a few moments in which he doesn’t think of Mal and of Dom who is so broken with no way for Arthur to fix him, to put him back together correctly, any one of those things or maybe something else entirely. Arthur doesn’t care, so long as he’ll be able to sleep tonight and wake more rested than he feels now, a little more balanced.
Eames’ hands are under his shirt, running over his back and his sides. Arthur arches into the touch and makes another noise at the back of his throat, a moan that sounds nothing like a sob but might as well be. Eames must have heard the edge of it, because he pulls back, taking Arthur’s shoulders and holding him at a distance so he can look.
Arthur feels flushed and aroused and he’s not thinking, not thinking at all.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what’s brought this on?” There’s something sharp in Eames’ tone now, and in his eyes. Arthur looks away, shaking his head in denial.
Arthur bites down on his lip once, hard. “Mal is dead.”
Mal worked for the FBI and Arthur can see Eames connecting the dots. “Is that what this is about?”
Arthur thinks he might read something like pity, or maybe confusion, in Eames’ face and that isn’t what he wants at all. He surges forward, Eames’ hold be damned, and kisses the man again, as dirty and seductive as he can.
Eames groans again, his cock twitching against Arthur’s, and Arthur thinks he’s won, but instead Eames takes Arthur’s face in his hands, thumbs over his jaw, and changes the pace of the kiss. It’s slow and languid and sweet and nothing at all what Arthur needs. It makes him want to break, to hand all the pieces to Eames and trust him with them.
Eames draws back again, not far, his breath ghosting over Arthur’s face. He brushes a finger over Arthur’s eyebrow. “Oh, darling.”
Despite Eames’ erection brushing against his, there’s nothing sexual in the way Eames puts his hands under Arthur’s ass and gets up from the couch in an impressive show of strength, lifting Arthur with him. “Let’s get you to bed, shall we?”
Arthur wants to protest. He wants to go back to the moment where he still thought Eames was going to fuck him hard enough to push all thoughts out of his mind. He lets his head drop against Eames’ shoulder and does nothing at all. Eames keeps up a steady stream of chatter, “let me take care of you, love, don’t worry about a thing,” and walks into Arthur’s bedroom without having to ask which door it was, without wavering under Arthur’s weight for even a moment.
He settles Arthur on the bed and kisses his forehead, then the corner of his mouth. “Sleep, okay? And if you still want this in the morning, we’ll talk about it then.”
Arthur doesn’t understand Eames at all, but the bourbon and his own exhaustion pull him under before he can figure him out. It probably wouldn’t have worked, anyways.
The next morning brings: a hangover, a dry mouth, the feeling that something crawled into his mouth and died on his tongue in his sleep, and embarrassment. Arthur tries not to analyze it, but his thoughts keep returning to last night. He tries to examine the facts only, to leave the emotion out of it. He got drunk and threw himself at Eames. Eames rejected his advances. That Arthur got drunk and threw himself at anyone in the first place is embarrassing enough, that it wasn’t even wanted is worse. Eames kissed him once, and Arthur pushed him away. The parallels are too striking for Arthur to ignore, especially when he knew that physically, Eames wanted him. He’s felt Eames’ erection against him, there’s no denying that.
Arthur gets up, rubbing his neck and padding into the kitchen. He’s glad it’s Saturday. There’s a bottle of water on the kitchen table, and next to it are aspirin and a note. Arthur has a sudden flash of Eames going through his bathroom cabinets to find the aspirin and he let the man into his home, he invited him, so he’s got no one to blame but himself, but it still feels like an invasion of privacy. He can find his own damn aspirin, especially in his own house.
The note reads: “Let’s do that again sometime, with a little less desperation involved, shall we, darling?”
It feels like mockery.
Arthur reads the newspaper front to back and doesn’t think about Eames and how the man pushed Arthur away as payback for the time Arthur pushed him away, that night at the bar, how Eames pushed Arthur away when Arthur needed him. He vows not to let such a thing happen again.
Arthur’s mother was a showgirl in Vegas. She was gorgeous and young and didn’t know which of the men she’d slept with was Arthur’s father. She never tried contacting any of them, didn’t even know most of their last names.
She loved Arthur with all her heart, he’s never doubted that, but she was flimsy and drunk more often than not (at least Arthur hopes that alcohol was the only drug she used, but he’s not sure, he can’t be sure) and Arthur yearned for stability.
She died two months before Arthur’s fourteen’s birthday.
Arthur returns to work and no one questions that he really was sick, because he looks “like hell warmed over”.
There’s briefs and court dates, press conferences, rebuttals and evidence and opening statements to prepare and Arthur loses himself in the work, in the precision and specificity of it. He loves the logic of an argument, enjoys finding weak holes in the defence, and spends countless hours making certain his cases are absolutely airtight. There’s a reason he has one of the best success rates in the entire New York area.
Arthur’s good at what he does and he loves his work.
The return to routine soothes something inside him, and it becomes a little easier to think of Mal without desperation with each passing day.
He makes a point of not calling Eames.
Arthur goes on a few dates with a young woman he meets at the Met, and misses broad shoulders and stubble against his cheek. He flirts with a dark-haired, broad man in a bar, interest piqued by the tattoos peaking out under the man’s tight shirt, but every word sounds flat and wrong in the guy’s Texan drawl.
Arthur makes it part of his routine to visit Dom and the children every Saturday. Dom is a mess still, and Arthur can hardly blame him, so sometimes he ends up taking the children to museums or the aquarium (James loves the aquarium and Phillipa doesn’t mind).
When they go back, Dom is usually still sober enough to put his children to bed, and then Arthur will stay with his friend and listen to him talk about Mal, ignoring the twinge in his own heart every time he hears her name. Dom loves her so much, it doesn’t matter that she’s dead, and Arthur remembers how it feels to have his brittle faith in love and happily-ever-after crumble and wonders if the foundations will hold.
Saturday nights always end with Dom drunk, sometimes leaning heavily on Arthur’s shoulder, sometimes screaming and shouting until Arthur is close to hitting him again.
All things considered, Arthur thinks Dom is handling Mal’s death quite well.
Every year, they hire two interns for the summer months. This year, one of them is a young man who introduced himself as Nash. He does his work well enough, Arthur hears, but he feels uncomfortable in his presence. Arthur’s glad that he’s far too young and too low on the hierarchy to be assigned interns.
The other intern is Ariadne. She runs into him on her first day, literally, almost getting coffee all over his files, takes a look at one of the memos and asks him if he’s thought of mentioning Riggs v. Palmer for the precedent it set.
Arthur invites her out for lunch.
Arthur and Ariadne are discussing Dworkin when it happens. Ariadne has recently taken a class in jurisprudence and legal theory and Arthur, for all that he loved applying the law, has always had an interest in the theoretical side of it as well.
Ariadne mentions, her voice completely serious, the donut of special authority, and Arthur (who has read Dworkin, thank you very much, and thinks the man is quite brilliant) can’t help but laugh.
He sees Eames, then, a cup of coffee in one hand and the newspaper under his arm. The suit he’s wearing isn’t atrocious, but the expression on his face is something that Arthur can’t read, a strange twist to his mouth. Arthur stops laughing and Eames walks away.
“What was that?” Ariadne asks, but Arthur doesn’t answer.
Dom pulls himself together and goes to the aquarium with Arthur, Phillipa and James. It’s one of the best Saturdays Arthur’s had in a while. He realizes, with a start, how much he’s missed his best friend.
“Arthur,” Dom says when the children are asleep and they’re sitting on the couch with a movie in the background and wine in their hands. “I—thank you. And I’m sorry. For the last months.”
Arthur waves him off. “I’m just glad you’re back to yourself, okay?”
Arthur learnt cooking not because he wanted to, but because it was necessary. He thinks that things were better when he was still younger, perhaps because he needed her more back then, because until his eighth birthday or so, Arthur was practically incapable of being independent, but he learnt quickly and things got worse. There was alcohol more often than not, and men and strange hours, and Arthur would come home from school to an empty kitchen and an emptier stomach.
So he learnt how to cook.
He didn’t expect to enjoy it, but he does.
Eames is in his office when Arthur comes back from lunch with Ariadne. She takes one look at Eames and disappears. Arthur frowns after her so that he doesn’t have to look at Eames just yet.
“Darling,” Eames begins.
Arthur doesn’t turn around immediately, afraid that whatever he’s feeling will show on his face. When he does turn to look at Eames, he’s arranged his features into careful neutrality. “I trust you have a professional reason for being in my office, Agent Eames.”
If the coldness in Arthur’s voice bothers Eames, he doesn’t let on. It just strengthens Arthur’s belief that it meant nothing to Eames when Arthur called him over, basically begging to be fucked.
“Of course,” Eames says, and Arthur concentrates on even breathing. He’s professional, working with Eames will not be a problem.
The case is complicated. Arthur likes to keep updated on what is going on with the cases he’ll be taking to court even before they’ve officially moved from the investigating stage and this one has three murders across two state borders and there’s whispers of mob involvement and potential weapon smuggling.
He knows the FBI – Agent Eames in the lead on this case – has suspects. Innocent until proven guilty does not sit easily with everyone, not when there’s gut feelings and long hours, too much coffee and a frantic desire to just get the guys involved. Arthur understands how difficult it is, sometimes, which is why he isn’t surprised to hear, through the grapevine, that Eames blew up, quite spectacularly apparently, when he couldn’t get a warrant to tap their main suspects' phones. Arthur looked at the case (purely professional interest he tells himself) and he understands the decision not to give the warrant. There’s too much doubt, no reasonable grounds.
Arthur thinks of all the times (luckily, all the times in this case isn’t very often, but still) that he lost a case, that someone walked when his gut and his mind and every instinct screamed that they were guilty.
He understands Eames’ reaction better than he might like.
Lunch with Ariadne becomes a regular thing, part of his routine that Arthur looks forward to, that he enjoys. He finds himself watching her face sometimes over soup or sandwiches or pasta and wonders why he isn’t in love with her, not even a little bit. She’s young and lovely, smart and quick to tease and quicker to smile. He feels comfortable in her presence; she poses not the least bit of danger to his equilibrium.
Everything about her, and especially his own reaction to her, is so unlike Eames. It would be easier, with her, he thinks, and remembers the rush, the feeling of free-falling, the way Eames throws him off-balance.
“You’re thinking of him, aren’t you?” Ariadne asks, chin in one hand, her eyes entirely too knowing.
Arthur takes it all back. He’s glad that he isn’t in love with her.
On his birthday, Arthur invites Dom (and the children, by extension) and Ariadne over to his place. A small voice calls it pathetic that these are the only people he calls friends, the only people close enough for him to want to spend his birthday with.
He hadn’t meant to celebrate at all, in any way. Mostly he just wanted to let the day pass without comment, just like any other day, but of course Dom knows his birthday and he’s a manipulative son of a bitch, always has been (and Arthur refuses to admit that he kind of missed it, because it means Dom is really getting better), so a week before, Phillipa takes his hand and asks, wide-eyed, what he wants for his birthday and if she’s invited to the party.
So really, he has no choice in the matter.
He cooks, an elaborate affair, filling his table with dishes upon dishes, far more than the five of them will be able to eat, especially considering that Phillipa and James don’t eat as much as the adults. Still, he enjoys spending the whole afternoon in the kitchen; it leaves him relaxed and gives him something to focus on other than wondering if Ariadne and Dom will get along, whether it will be awkward.
Ariadne brings a bottle of wine and a gorgeous tie, silk, that Arthur just knows will look wonderful with his favourite suit. “You must have been slaving away for hours,” she exclaims when she sees the table, and Arthur feels himself smile.
“He does that,” Dom says very dryly, and closes the door behind the children.
Arthur needn’t have worried.
It may be possible, Arthur allows, that he does not react well to having his equilibrium upset.
There’s a knock and Arthur calls out a distracted “Yeah?,” busy cross-referencing statute with academic articles interpreting said statute and case law.
“Darling,” says an accented voice that can really only belong to one person. There is, Arthur’s absolutely certain, a British case that is very similar, he needs to find it and read through the court’s reasoning, make sure he’s missed no angle in his own memo (still in the drafting phase), so he holds up a hand and Eames shuts up, strangely obligingly. Arthur scribbles a note to look up the case later, if only he can remember the name of it, and finishes the sentence before saving everything.
“Just came to drop this off,” Eames says and waves a thick folder. Arthur knows what it is immediately: all the information he’ll need to take the triple homicide-weapon smuggling-possible mob involvement case to trial.
He takes it, flips it open, scanning through it. There’s transcripts of phone conversations and he slows down, frowning, and reads through them more carefully. They’re incriminating.
“I thought you didn’t get a warrant to tap his phones,” he mutters.
Eames’ reply is instant, and makes Arthur freeze. “We didn’t.”
Arthur looks at the file again. The transcripts are still there.
“Agent Eames,” he starts, very slowly, “Did you tap this man’s phone without a warrant?”
Eames has the good grace to look a little sheepish, perhaps even worried, eyebrows drawing together, but the expression smoothes over almost immediately and he shrugs. “It worked and we got a full confession out of him because of it, too.”
Arthur flips another page, and another, until he finds what Eames is talking about. Apparently, they told the guy that they had evidence, the phone records, and that prompted the confession. Arthur can’t believe it.
“I knew you weren’t the most professional, Agent Eames, but I didn’t realize you were stupid,” he hisses, standing up and dropping the folder on his desk. “I can’t try this case.”
“What,” Eames says, voice rising, “I’m basically handing it to you on a silver platter!”
Arthur finds himself laughing, but it isn’t funny at all. “There’s pesky things like the Constitution and human rights, Agent, in case you didn’t realize. This isn’t the wild west and you can’t just go and do whatever you want just because your gut says the guy’s guilty. Congratulations, really, because you’ve ruined this, none of this evidence, none of it is admissible in court.”
This is something that has pissed Arthur off all through law school when people argued for torturing terrorists, argued that in certain cases, it’s perfectly fine to ignore basic rights. They have a reasonably well-functioning criminal justice system and they have constitutionally guaranteed rights for a reason, just like there’s a reason why there’s certain human rights treaties on the international level that the U.S. is party to, self-executing or not, and procedural rights. There’s a reason for innocent until proven guilty and every other maxim of criminal law, and Eames just trampled all over them all in his activism. Arthur may understand where he’s coming from, he understands the frustration, but they have this system for a reason and that’s because, Arthur believes this, it’s the best possible. It may mean not tapping phones without a warrant and taking longer to solve the case, or maybe not solving it at all, and it may mean watching someone who is probably, likely, factually guilty go free, legally innocent. It’s frustrating, sometimes, but it’s the best, the only way there is.
Arthur hates it when people think they’re above the system. It’s arrogant and foolish and he can’t believe that Eames did this and with every word of his little speech, he’s advanced on Eames, glaring and gesturing sharply.
Eames walks back until he hits the wall.
“Congratulations, Mr Eames,” Arthur’s mouth twists, bitter and so angry, “We’ll be lucky if he doesn’t sue us. This is a disaster.”
Eames says nothing, not a single word to defend himself, eyes a little wider than usual, his tongue darting out to wet his lips.
Arthur can’t take it anymore, he’s so angry and Eames is right there, he wants to put his fist into the man’s face, or elbow him in the kidneys, anything, because this case would have been big, this was serious and now they’ll have to let everyone involved go, because of over-eager FBI agents who think they’re cowboys, who think that their actions have no consequences and the case ends when they hand over their file to the prosecutor.
Arthur’s livid, but he won’t hit Eames. He has a short flash, an idea, there and gone again, of kissing him instead.
They’re too close, Arthur’s well into Eames’ space and Eames literally has his back against the wall. Arthur can feel Eames’ breath on his face, knows Eames can feel his.
“Get out, Mr Eames,” he whispers against Eames’ lips and steps back.
Eames doesn’t move for a moment, breathing hard and there’s something in his expression—but it’s gone too quickly for Arthur to analyze, and Eames pushes himself off the wall. “Of course,” he says.
Arthur tries to get back to work, but his concentration is shot to hell, anger cursing through him.
He takes an early lunch break instead and spends it in the gym.
After, he feels a little more balanced again, and if he’s grumpy for the rest of the day, well, he didn’t have lunch and his blood sugar may be a little low.
Later that night, unable to sleep, Arthur stares at his bedroom ceiling and resolutely does not think of Eames and Eames’ lips and the fact that for a moment there, Arthur wasn’t sure whether to hit Eames, or kiss him instead.
This is how Arthur would imagine it’d go, if he’d let himself imagine:
It’s all teeth, hard and violent. Eames is unmoving under Arthur’s lips, stunned perhaps, but it hardly registers because Arthur’s busy taking out his fury on Eames’ mouth, pouring all his anger about this case into the kiss, and if part of the anger is for less professional reasons, because Eames confuses him and upsets him, well, no one has to know.
Eames’ stillness doesn’t last long. Before Arthur knows it, their places are reversed and it’s Arthur who’s pressed up against the wall, pinned there by the weight of Eames’ body, by broad shoulders and hands on his wrists.
But Arthur doesn’t let himself imagine.
The next morning, Arthur finds a post-it stuck to his computer screen. It says “I’m sorry” and there’s a sad smiley under it.
It’s obvious who it is from, and Arthur stares at it for almost a full minute, before he throws it away.
Ariadne invites him to a party, “just a BBQ with a couple people, really. Bring Dominic and the kids, if you will. It’ll be fun,” and Arthur can’t find a reason why he should decline, other than a vague unease, the fact that he’s never been big on socializing, that he prefers private conversation to large groups.
A couple people turns out to be Ariadne’s college friends, a few people from the office, a few more people from the FBI (and seeing Yusuf gives Arthur pause, because it means that maybe, Eames is around as well) and a few people that don’t fit into any category Arthur can identify. It’s far more people than he expected and he feels his throat go dry.
Phillipa slides her hand into his and smiles up at him and Arthur reflexively smiles back.
It’s difficult to be scared and antisocial when there’s a little girl holding your hand, so Arthur squares his shoulders and together, they walk into the backyard that must belong to one of Ariadne’s college friends.
The thing is, Arthur doesn’t hate Eames. He thinks he does, sometimes, and other times he wishes he did, if only for the stunt Eames pulled with the tapped phones. Arthur is genuinely angry about that, but for all that Eames acted rashly, stupidly, Arthur still knows that Eames is competent. He’s read Eames’ briefs. He understands the thought process that led to disregarding the lack of warrant, even, understands it without being told.
Eames is competent and Arthur remembers the first evening they spent together, that time in the bar before Eames kissed him and Arthur turned him down. If Arthur were honest with himself (which he avoids when it comes to Eames, because denial is a skill and there’s some things Arthur would just prefer not to look too closely at), he’d admit that Eames is funny and gorgeous and that he charmed Arthur that night. Arthur is helplessly attracted to him.
Arthur doesn’t believe that Eames is serious about him. Eames is someone who kisses people after an evening in a bar, who’ll leave mocking notes after a night in which nothing happens, but he also came over when Arthur called.
Arthur doesn’t know what to make of Eames. That is, perhaps, what scares him the most.
Arthur talks to Dom for a while, about his students, about the latest developments in academia, about the last case Arthur won. It feels normal, almost like Mal could slide up to them any moment, hands on Dom’s waist and smiling at Arthur.
She won’t, of course. She won’t, but the thought makes Arthur smile rather than frown and that’s enough for now.
Arthur tries to talk to Ariadne, but she’s understandably busy and he doesn’t really mind. He’s never been one to insert himself in a conversation where it isn’t necessary, so he grabs himself another beer and wanders over to the BBQ, stomach growling.
The food, at least, is good, and everyone’s friendly even if Arthur doesn’t quite know what to make of it. He makes small talk, he’s perfectly capable of that, with a number of people he hardly knows or doesn’t know at all and will never see again.
Arthur’s nursing his third beer, leaning against the doorframe to the kitchen and surveying the backyard, when Eames arrives. It’s quite a commotion, Eames clearly the kind of person who knows everyone and whom everyone likes: He exchanges those manly one-armed hugs with Yusuf, picks Ariadne up and plants a kiss on her cheek (leaving Arthur to wonder how those two know one another, because they didn’t when Eames saw him and Ariadne having lunch, he’s sure of that), and makes a round, shaking hands here and there, hugging a few more people that Arthur doesn’t know.
It only serves to showcast how socially inept Arthur himself is, at times.
Arthur’s sitting with Dom, James in his lap. He likes Dom’s children- they love him, inexplicably, and it makes all the difference in dealing with them. Dom’s talking about one of his students, not as brilliant as Arthur, but brilliant in her own way, and Arthur’s relaxed and a little flushed from the alcohol and the compliments Dom keeps bestowing on him, as though Arthur’s not aware that his intelligence is one of this best features.
Dom breaks off, mid-sentence, and Arthur looks up to find Eames standing next to him, an odd expression on his face.
Eames turns to Dom, holding out his hand. “Mr Cobb. I knew your wife, briefly. I’m very sorry for your loss.” His voice is soft, gentle, so at odds to the sharp wit and lilting mockery that Arthur has come to associate with Eames. He’s looking at Arthur when he says it, not at Dom.
Dom seems surprised, mouth twisting in grief before he can muster a weak smile. “Thank you.” He shakes Eames’ hand and Eames is gone before Arthur or Dom can say another word.
After that, Arthur feels strangely unsettled.
Arthur wonders whether Eames’ fuck-up had consequences for Eames, within the FBI. It must have, he thinks, but he can’t bring himself to ask, can’t bring himself to make inquiries about it.
He could find out, but he isn’t sure he wants to know what this mistake cost Eames.
It’s close to midnight before Arthur sees Eames again. Dom and the children are long gone, way past James’ bedtime (and Phillipa’s, but by not quite so large a margin) and Arthur’s been meaning to excuse himself for the last half an hour, at least, but he can’t find Ariadne and he’s pleasantly tipsy, exchanging pleasantries with one of his colleagues. The music is far louder and more modern than what Arthur usually listens to, but it isn’t bad.
There’s a hand on his arm, suddenly, and an accented-voice that tells Joshua that he’ll “just borrow Arthur here for a minute, excuse us, mh?” and before Arthur knows it, Eames is dragging him towards a dimly-lit corner of the backyard, away from the little groups that have formed.
“What do you think you’re doing,” Arthur hisses, wrenching his arm out of Eames’ hold.
Eames holds up both hands, pacifying. “I just want to talk, Arthur. Just give me a minute, okay?” And then, after the briefest pause, “Please.”
It’s the please that does it, Arthur thinks.
Eames runs a hand through his hair and Arthur’s struck by how nervous the gesture seems, how Eames is not as composed as Arthur always took him to be. There’s circles under Eames’ eyes that, Arthur is sure, weren’t there a week ago.
“Look, I know I screwed up with that case, and I understand that you’re pissed about that. I just wanted to say—” he hesitates. “I just wanted to say that I thought maybe we were onto something. That you trusted me, when you called me that night, and I don’t know what I did to change that, what I’ve done to you, but I liked—”
He breaks off again, looking at Arthur almost shyly, as if gauging his reaction. Arthur knows his face is perfectly neutral, because that is his default expression (something he’s taught himself, painstakingly) and he’s too surprised to school his features into something different, wouldn’t even know what he’d want Eames to see in his face.
Eames mutters something about in for a penny and continues: “I like you. If you want nothing to do with me, that’s fair enough, but if there’s a chance and I’ve just somehow done something horrible to offend you, just, let me make it up to you. Let me take you out on a date, properly. Anything, really.”
Arthur swallows dryly, opens his mouth and closes it again. “Jesus, Arthur, you’re killing me here,” Eames licks his lips and Arthur’s eyes are drawn to that movement. It lights something almost like hope in Eames’ eyes.
“Just, think about it, all right? You have my number.”
Eames turns around and walks away, leaving Arthur completely dumbstruck.
Arthur doesn’t sleep that night. Eames’ words, his expression, it all keeps playing out over and over in Arthur’s mind.
He feels slightly sick, a nagging feeling in his stomach, but he doesn’t know whether it’s because he may have misread Eames and hates making mistakes, or because he may have hurt Eames, or because he still doesn’t know whether Eames means it, what is going on.
Arthur feels things are well and truly out of his control, which makes no sense since the ball is quite clearly in his court.
Monday morning, there’s a thick folder on his desk that wasn’t there before. There’s a post-it on top of it that says “Hope this helps.” in what Arthur recognizes to be Eames’ handwriting.
Curious, he settles in his chair, one hand wrapped around his coffee cup, and begins to read.
Inside the folder is evidence, meticulously researched and put together, on Cassis, the mobster involved in the triple-homicide/weapons smuggling case. None of it ties back in any way to the tapped phones or the confession that resulted from it. None of it is circumstantial and none of it is hear-say. Arthur can feel his heart beating hard in his chest.
The evidence seems completely airtight. It might just be enough for a guilty sentence, and Arthur wouldn’t even have to mention the tapped phones or any of the evidence resulting from it that is completely inadmissible.
It must have been a lot of work to put this together, to go through all these avenues that are not usually used. Someone (Eames) really went through a lot of trouble to make sure this case could go to trial after all.
Arthur finds himself smiling as he gets to work. The least he can do in return is nail this case. He intends to.
Ariadne drags him out to lunch, as is their custom. It isn’t the first time she finds Arthur arms deep in his research, but the look she gives him is still surprised and a little strange. Arthur raises an eyebrow at her, but she doesn’t comment, simply linking her arm with his and dragging him to their favourite deli (the one where they saw Eames).
He understands the origin of the strange expression when Ariadne, once they’ve settled down with their sandwiches, props her elbow onto the table and studies him, saying “So, has Eames talked to you?”
Arthur sets his own sandwich down, a little wary. “Yeah. How do you know him, anyways?”
For once, Ariadne gives in to his non-sequitur. Apparently she met Yusuf in a bar and they hit it off, and after the third date, Yusuf introduced her to Eames. “You should have seen him, he got really angry, worried I was cheating on you or leading you on. Calmed right down once I told him we were just friends.”
Arthur remembers the odd expression on Eames’ face when he saw Arthur with Ariadne, the way he held himself just a little too tightly as he walked away. If Eames thought that there was something between him and Ariadne—does that mean Eames was jealous? Arthur rolls the word around his head a few times, tries it out and decides that it fits the situation. Eames was jealous. Arthur swallows, motioning for Ariadne to continue. “So after that we started talking more often, and Arthur, he really likes you.” Her voice is soft now, gentle, as though she’s speaking to a spooked child or a frightened animal. Arthur resents the implications of that. “You’re not an easy man to get to know. I’m sure you have your reasons, but really, give him a chance. I think the two of you could be happy together.”
Arthur opens his mouth to protest, or to argue, to say anything at all, really, but Ariadne breaks the spell before the silence becomes awkward, leaning back in her chair with a smirk. “Plus, it’d be really hot, y’know.”
Arthur throws a pack of sugar at her and they pretend that they never talked about this, but the words don’t leave Arthur for the rest of the day. You could be happy together.
After this mother’s death when he was fourteen, Arthur was placed in the system. At the time, Arthur had long known things weren’t quite as they should be at home, his mother never giving him the stability he craved, but when she’d died, none of it had mattered for a while. She was dead and he missed her, faults and all. T this day, he’s glad that he experienced none of the horror stories of abuse. With sixteen, Arthur applied for emancipation. He finished high school, got a scholarship to college and later, a scholarship to law school. He learnt to stand on his own two feet long before his mother died, and no one’s been around to teach him otherwise.
Arthur knows that his history has left its marks on him. He’s well aware that he has trust issues, that he refuses to let people close before he’s absolutely certain that they mean it, that they won’t leave.
The self-awareness does not make it any easier to take the leap.
Arthur texts Eames: just a date, time and address. The address is that of a restaurant he’s been meaning to visit. He hopes Eames can read between the lines what Arthur isn’t saying: that he’s willing to give this a try, that he’s scared, that he hopes Eames really means it.
He gets a text message back, saying just one word: darling.
His phone beeps again immediately after. I’ll make the reservations, shall I?.
Arthur finds himself smiling.
Eames comes to pick Arthur up on Saturday evening, black slacks and a neatly pressed shirt in dark blue, simple and understated in comparison to the clothes Eames usually wears, and Arthur feels his mouth go dry.
Eames gives him a long, very obvious once-over, smirking. Because Arthur’s looking for it, he sees how soft Eames’ eyes go, direct contrast to the smirk. “You look gorgeous, darling.”
He offers Arthur his arm and Arthur wants to bat it away and tell Eames not to be ridiculous, to roll his eyes and call Eames a sentimental fool, but instead he just ducks his head and takes Eames’ arm, letting Eames lead him out of his apartment building and into the streets. The restaurant isn’t far from Arthur’s, so they walk. Eames chatters about this or that, pleasant and light conversation that makes Arthur relax.
Maybe, he thinks, maybe they can actually do this. Maybe there’s no reason for the nervousness that’s been curled tight in his gut for days, ever since he agreed to this, the nervousness that still hasn’t left him now that he’s actually side by side with Eames.
Eames is unfailingly polite. Of course, he still calls Arthur pet names and teases him, smirking, but there’s never any edge to it, and he holds doors open for Arthur and pulls Arthur’s chair out. It should be ridiculous, it should be stupid, Arthur’s a grown man, stupid and old-fashioned and Arthur thinks it is, but Eames does it all with an air of self-deprecation and a look in his eyes that leaves Arthur not only enduring Eames’ escapades but also feeling like he’s something precious, like he’s being taken care of. It’s strange, but not bad, and Arthur, instead of taking control, lets himself follow Eames’ lead.
Arthur expected it to be awkward, but just like that first evening at the bar, they settle into an easy rhythm, and it’s comfortable and effortless instead. If he falters sometimes, thrown by the affection he thinks he reads in Eames’ gaze now, Eames always has a new topic or an intelligent question to keep the conversation going.
Halfway through their main course, Eames takes Arthur’s hand to illustrate a point and then doesn’t let go, thumb rubbing small circles over the back of Arthur’s hand. It sends small jolts of pleasure down Arthur’s spine.
He catches Eames’ gaze and says, very slowly: “Mr Eames. My pasta is getting cold. Could I have my hand back?”
Eames’ laughter is delighted. Arthur feels himself relax a little more into the conversation until not ten minutes later, he finds himself gesturing with his fork while they discuss a recent case (not one of Arthur’s) that made it to the news.
Before dessert arrives, Arthur leans forward, mustering Eames. “You thought Ariadne and I were—”
Eames shrugs and Arthur finds the slight flush that spreads over Eames’ cheeks utterly endearing. They’re both looser now, good food and wine having done their part just as Eames’ easy conversation for Arthur. “Yeah, well,” says Eames, rubbing the back of his neck and Arthur is struck by the thought that this is a side of Eames that not many people get to see, a side of Eames he hasn’t seen before, one that Eames wants him to see now. “You were laughing. Do you have any idea how gorgeous you are when you laugh, darling? You didn’t, with me. What was I supposed to think?”
This time, it’s Arthur who takes Eames’ hand before he can think better of it, just a quick brush of fingertips over skin before he’s pulling back again, but Eames’ eyes light up with it regardless.
Eames walks him home again, stopping in front of the apartment complex and stepping close to Arthur. He gives Arthur all the time in the world to step back, to pull back or to say something, telegraphing each movement clearly as he threads his fingers through Arthur’s hair and leans forward.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for so long, you have no idea,” he whispers against Arthur’s lips and Arthur stays, not frozen but anticipating, tilting his chin just the slightest bit upwards. It’s all the invitation Eames needs.
It’s far better than the kiss by the bar, when Arthur thought Eames only wanted a one-night stand, if that, and it’s far better than the kisses the night Arthur called Eames. They’ve had alcohol, certainly, but Arthur is far from drunk and much less desperate this time, less scared. He tangles his fingers in Eames’ shirt and holds on as Eames kisses him, thorough and slowly, framing his face with both hands.
“Do you want to—” Arthur asks after the fourth time Eames has pulled away only to lean in again.
“Darling. You have no idea how much.” Eames brushes a fingertip over Arthur’s jaw, tracing his lips which feel swollen and heavy from all the kissing. “But I’m trying to be a gentleman here.”
Arthur goes to bed alone, but he finds that he doesn’t mind.
Their second date goes much like the first, except that this time, when they kiss it doesn’t stay in front of Arthur’s apartment complex, this time Eames comes upstairs and Arthur doesn’t even pretend to fix them tea or coffee, just presses Eames against his front door and kisses him like he can’t get enough of him. Eames returns the kisses just as eagerly, pliant under Arthur’s wandering hands until he isn’t anymore, until he flips them around and suddenly it’s Arthur who’s pinned against the door, almost like in the fantasy he never allowed himself.
They’re both hard and breathing heavily, but for a moment, Eames just looks at Arthur, soft and gentle and so careful, as though Arthur might shatter under his hands. “Are you sure?”
Arthur finds he doesn’t have an answer. . He has trouble trusting people, but Eames has made it perfectly clear that he isn’t only interested in sex with Arthur, that he wants more, and even if he hadn’t, Arthur can read it in every line of Eames’ body, in the way that Eames holds himself back even now, giving Arthur every chance to back out.
Arthur doesn’t want to stop. Yet no matter what his mind tells him, no matter how much rationality assures him Eames will stay, that he’s more than just a conquest, believing it is a different question altogether.
Arthur goes to bed alone, jerks off hard and slow and comes with Eames’ name on his tongue. He likes Eames, and he thinks Eames likes him, too.
Arthur isn’t sure he believes in the possibility of it.
Their third day is exactly ten days after their first. Arthur’s had a long day, a really long day, one of the hearings didn’t go well and the defence lawyer’s pressing for a settlement, so sure that he’s got this case in the pocket that it makes Arthur angry, but also doubt himself, just a little.
He calls Eames, to cancel.
“I’m hardly fit for company, really.”
“How about I just cancel the reservation and come over to yours with some Chinese take-out? We’ll watch bad movies and make you forget all about the day, how’s that sound?”
“Look, Arthur, I don’t mind it if you’re grumpy or angry because you’ve had a bad day. I just want to spend time with you. Please let me.”
It’s the please, Arthur thinks again, that did it.
Eames comes over with take-out and two DVDs. He’s wearing the ugliest jumper Arthur’s ever seen and a big grin. Arthur is torn between being fiercely glad for his company and wanting to slam the door in his face and just hide in his apartment. He knows he’s irrational, that he shouldn’t really be scowling like this, hardly has reason for it.
He’s no good at this.
Eames takes one long look at him, settling the bag with the take-out on the kitchen table without looking, placing the DVD’s next to it without taking his gaze off Arthur, and then he’s crowding Arthur against the kitchen counter, heat and strength and solidity.
Arthur presses both hands flat against Eames’ chest and pushes.
“I’m sorry,” he says, biting the words out, “I changed my mind, I really want to be alone right now. It’s been a long day, I’m sure you understand—”
And Eames is back in his space, unmoving even as Arthur pushes again, using his weight to hold them both in place, still, arms coming around Arthur, surprisingly gentle.
“I’m not leaving, Arthur. I’m not leaving unless you look me in the eye and tell me that you want me to, that you want me out of your life. Unless you do that, I’m staying.”
Arthur stays silent, and lets Eames hug him.
Their fourth (third proper) date is unremarkable in many ways and extraordinary in many others, or perhaps for all the same reasons, Arthur isn’t quite sure. It’s unremarkable in that it’s pleasant and nothing goes wrong. Eames tells him amusing childhood anecdotes and Arthur finds himself re-telling a harmless story about his own childhood before he realises.
It’s extraordinary in how comfortable he feels.
Their fifth and sixth date pass in much the same fashion: comfortable conversation, laughter, a nervous feeling in his stomach that Arthur can’t quite place and yet thinks he recognises. He’s reasonably sure he knows what it means.
Eames follows Arthur up the stairs to his apartment, leans into Arthur and kisses him until they’re both breathless and hard. And without fail, Eames leaves, a lingering affair during which Eames gets up, leans down (“just one last kiss, really, love, then I’ll get going”) and gets up again only to lean down once more.
Arthur wonders, sometimes, why Eames even bothers. Ariadne hits his shoulder and laughs. Arthur has a creeping suspicion she’s laughing at him and his perceived ineptitude.
“He’s wooing you, you ass,” she says.
It’s wonderful and easy and comfortable and exciting and Arthur doesn’t quite believe it can possibly last.
He’s beginning to think that maybe, maybe— but he knows it’s too good to be true.
Eames comes round one Saturday afternoon, two days after their seventh date. He brings flowers and he’s smiling, but he didn’t call ahead, didn’t let Arthur know and Arthur feels suddenly, inexplicably crowded, out of his comfort zone, scared. Like Eames has him cornered, like Eames may start asking more than Arthur can give him.
(Like Arthur may start expecting more than Eames is willing to offer.)
Arthur hates having his routine interrupted, hates having his schedule changed without his knowledge, hates making room for sudden changes, and he does not react well.
He’s cold and vicious, telling Eames he doesn’t want him here, that he has no time for him.
The brief flicker of hurt and disbelief that crosses Eames’ face is both vindication and enough to give him pause, all at once.
Apparently, that pause is more telling than Arthur thought, because the next thing he knows, Eames’ hands are on his shoulder, holding him in place.
“I can leave now if you want me to, but I told you before, you’re not getting rid of me this easily,” Eames tells him, quietly, earnestly.
Just like last time, it leaves Arthur with no idea what to say.
The Cassis case goes to trial. Triple-homicide and weapons smuggling plus mob involvement means it’s high profile, lots of press involved, and the defence lawyers are ruthless, in the courtroom and out of it.
Arthur’s exhausted, running himself ragged. He both loves and hates trial stage, when things progress beyond the research, the outcome that depends on how well he argues, but also on the facts, on the jury, on the judge, on factors wholly out of Arthur’s control. It’s exhilarating and terrifying at once, time and time again.
He doesn’t see Eames for days, hardly leaves the courthouse except to sleep and change suits. On the day that Eames has to give testimony, he catches Arthur, presses a large cup of coffee in his hands and smiles. He’s gone before Arthur can thank him.
Arthur wins the case.
Dom looks at him, sometimes, like Arthur’s broken. It’s nonsense, of course, Arthur’s fine. He has a few issues, yeah, but who doesn’t, and besides, Dom is the one who just lost his wife, who’s raising two children on his own now, if anyone should be worrying about the other, it should be Arthur.
“I’m seeing someone,” he tells Dom, mostly to get him off his back, to wipe that expression off his face, but also because he wants to talk to someone and he can’t really talk to Ariadne, because he’s fairly sure she’s Eames’ friend, too, and he wouldn’t want to put her in an awkward position. “I think it’s serious.”
Dom’s whole face lights up, like it’s something extraordinary.
( Sometimes, Arthur doesn’t understand Dom at all. Shouldn’t he be a little more wary of relationships, of love, considering how hurt he’s just been by it, by Mal’s death?)
The judgment comes on a Friday and Arthur doesn’t set an alarm for Saturday, sleeping for ten hours. He needed it.
That evening he invites Eames to the same bar that everything started in. They share a portion of chicken wings.
There’s a certain beauty in the symmetry of it, Arthur thinks, when he presses Eames against the wall where Eames kissed him first, and whispers that he wants Eames to go home with him, to stay the night, wants Eames inside of him, wants Eames.
(He wants Eames to stay.)
Eames’ smile is blinding. “Darling,” he says, and nothing else.
They’re both naked on Arthur’s bed, the solid weight of Eames’ bulk pressing Arthur down into the mattress and he loves it, loves having the whole expanse of skin and muscles that is Eames to run his hands over.
Eames props himself up on his elbows to look at Arthur, breathless and dishevelled. Arthur thinks he’s never seen anything so beautiful.
“What changed?” Eames asks, quiet, a surprising contrast to the last few minutes that were filled with soft sighs and moans. “Why push me away before, and not now?”
Arthur looks away. He owes Eames this much, but that doesn’t make it any easier. “I thought,” he mutters, “I thought, at first, that you didn’t want me, that you weren’t serious. And then after—” (after Eames’ speech and the dates, all of it) “I just, I had to be sure that it’d last.”
Eames goes completely still over him, scarcely breathing, before he explodes into a flurry of motion and words, “Oh darling, don’t ever doubt that I want you,” kissing Arthur anywhere he can reach, hands growing more insistent.
Eames moves over him, in him, exquisitely slow, watching Arthur the entire time. Still holding back, Arthur thinks and reaches up. He appreciates how careful Eames is with him, he really does, but he’s not made of glass.
“Still so careful, Mr Eames.” He waits until Eames pushes in again, clenches his muscles until Eames is breathless and groaning. “I won’t break.”
He wants everything Eames can give him.
Just before Arthur falls asleep, drowsy and content, he feels Eames’ fingers carding through his hair, hears Eames whisper: “I don’t know who hurt you, darling, but I promise you, I’m not them. I won’t leave unless you make me.”
Arthur smiles into his pillow. He believes Eames.