Eames is the last guy they bring in on this job, because Arthur's on it. When Arthur is on the job, Eames's work load is cut in half. He doesn't have to do all the research on the person he's supposed to forge. By the time he gets in, Arthur's got half the job done, the fucking irritating twat. It helps Eames a lot, but he won't cop to that. Arthur's a good man, but Eames makes it a rule to be cautious with everyone, and not give much back. It's not selfishness – or if it is, it's not just selfishness – it's self-preservation. Arthur's a good man, but he's just as much a thief as Eames is. Arthur just steals information. Give Arthur an inch, and he'll take your passwords, account numbers, blood type, and ancestry.
Still a good man though, because he's usually not a shit about it, but Eames can't afford to test that theory.
So Eames comes in late while the rest of the team is sitting around in an abandoned American supermarket, having lunch. Well, most of them are. The chemist, bloke by the name of Jacobi, is monitoring Arthur, asleep in a chair. But really monitoring him, judging by the electrodes attached to him, the jumping read-out line on a scroll of paper, and the steady beep-beep of a monitor.
"Hello, what's this?" Eames says by way of greeting.
"Oh, Mr. Eames," says their extractor, a towering blonde named Michelle. She rises from her folding chair to greet him with a kiss on the cheek. "Glad to have you aboard as always."
"Glad to be working," Eames says.
"This is our architect, Thiery," Michelle says.
A good-looking brunet lad comes around the corner of a deserted aisle, wiping his hands dry on a hand towel. "Good to meet you," he says. His accent is American west coast. "Arthur speaks highly of you."
"Does he," Eames says, feigning surprise as he glances towards Arthur and Jacobi again. "And what atrocities are we committing upon Arthur this time?"
"The usual," Michelle says. "New compounds and such."
Jacobi finishes scribbling something in a notepad before turning to Eames, but he doesn't get up. "Hey, Eames," he says. "We're trying to wrestle the compound to perfection before the extraction. We're a little crunched for time because the mark is, umm. Well, compromised in a way."
This is news to Eames. Arthur hadn't told him anything about this development. "Compromised how?"
"See," Michelle says, "he has some undocumented mental issues. We would never have even known about it if not for Arthur's watchful eye. He only figured it out yesterday."
"And we're still moving forward?" Eames hasn't stopped smiling, and he's still polite about it.
The rest of the team stand around looking uncomfortable. "Arthur said you might feel that way," Michelle says. "Umm. He said not to hold you to it if you didn't feel it was worth the risk. But that's why we're trying new compounds. We really need you for this."
Eames takes another look at Arthur in the chair. He looks troubled and slightly flushed as he twitches in his sleep. Arthur never twitches.
"What kind of reactions are you looking for?" Eames asks. "And why is he down there unsupervised?"
"That was his call," Jacobi says. "We need something to make the dream more open and much less guarded. So we're looking at trying to strip away some of the walls. The dreams would be kind of uninhibited, so Arthur wanted to go down there alone. It's a privacy kind of thing. It's kind of new, so that's why I'm monitoring the vitals, the brainwaves and such. If it starts to look out of control, we pull him out."
"I see," Eames says. Well, Arthur is an adult after all, and more often than not, he makes the right call. It's worth it to stick around and see how this plays out. Eames doesn't like leaving a team in the lurch at the last minute, but he'll do it if he has to. 'Safety first' is his motto, and honor can go fuck itself.
"So," Michelle says, "we set up a desk for you behind the old tea and coffee aisle. Figured that would be appropriate. It's not very posh, but at least no one's going to come looking for us here. And there's a bathroom with running water at the other end of the store."
He takes another look at the team—cohesive, at least, and focused—and at Arthur. Sweat has gathered at his hairline and a bead of it runs down his nose. It's March, and not all that warm in the abandoned supermarket. Eames takes a few steps closer to Arthur and bends down to peer at him critically.
"I don't like the look of him," he says to Jacobi.
"No?" Jacobi smirks at him a little. "Well, he's not my type. A bit on the ordinary side, but I always thought you..."
"You know what I meant," Eames says. "He looks peaky."
"He's fine," Jacobi insists, with a nod towards Arthur's readouts. "Go on, get settled in."
Letting people take care of themselves is what Eames does best. He stuffs his bags under the makeshift desk they've made for him around the next aisle, then heads to the back of the store towards the bathroom. There's just something awfully creepy about abandoned places, especially markets. He feels for a moment like he's in the zombie apocalypse, wandering past collapsed shelves that once held signs of civilization.
The running water in the bathroom is a plus, even if it's ice cold. Someone has stocked the bathroom with new rolls of toilet paper, soap, and towels. Well, not 'someone,' but Arthur, clearly. He washes his hands and splashes water on his face to freshen up.
The crash of what sounds like a metal chair (probably into one of those old shelves) gets him hurrying out of the bathroom. Arthur either fell, or they kicked him awake. Eames hadn't seen any cushioning beneath him.
And then he hears laughter. Animated, shouting voices, with Arthur's carrying above them all. And not his indoor voice, either.
"Sorry, sorry!" Arthur says. He sounds drunk. "I just wanted to show you something. It's cool. It's all cool. Watch!"
As he makes his way closer, he hears Jacobi: "Arthur, I need you to sit down and take a few deep breaths, okay, this is probably just a... It's temporary."
"I swear I can do it this time," Arthur insists. "Watch me!"
Michelle says, "Oh my god, stop him before he breaks something."
And Thiery: "Arthur, this is a bad idea and you're still kind of..."
"I can do it, watch!" Arthur insists.
Eames makes his way around the aisle in time to see Arthur take a running start – towards him – and then hop up on one foot and pitch himself forward. Eames backpedals the hell out of his way and just misses taking a foot to the face as Arthur turns a cartwheel.
Arthur stumbles a little on the landing before catching himself on a fallen endcap. He's grinning like a fool, color high in his cheeks, his suit jacket rumpled and shirt half untucked. Then he lifts his chin and attempts what looks like some kind of martial arts pose.
"Capoeira," he announces in a dramatic whisper.
It takes Eames a second to get over how gobsmacked he is when he realizes that Arthur is serious.
Then Arthur notices him. His face lights up in a flushed grin as he stumbles his way over, saying "Eames!" It's the most effusive greeting he's ever gotten from Arthur.
Eames catches him by the arms. Arthur takes this as part of the greeting and leans in to air-kiss first one cheek, then the other. "I'm so glad you could make it, okay?" he says, staring brightly into Eames's face with utter sincerity. "Now I need to ask you something super important, Eames. It's super important and I need you to be honest with me."
Eames hasn't let go of his arms, because he's still wavering about. "Erm. All right."
"Eames, tell me honestly. Do I have eyebrows?"
He fights the urge to laugh, but he's the only one making the attempt. Michelle hides a giggle behind her hand, Jacobi snickers, and Thiery just plants his face into his palm.
"Yes, Arthur," Eames says. "You have eyebrows. Now let's go sit down, all right?"
"Because I really feel like I don't have eyebrows right now and I think that would look, it would look really stupid. I should draw some on. Give me a marker."
Without letting go of him, Eames looks over Arthur's shoulder at Jacobi. "As amusing as this is, how long is it going to last and what other side effects can we expect?"
"Uhh..." Jacobi tries to wipe the smile off his face and goes to retrieve his notes. "Umm, I've actually never seen this before. I've seen it in the dream, but not topside. It should actually have worn off as soon as he woke up, but something's, I guess, lingering in his prefrontal cortex. Let me make a call to Farrel. She's the one who put the compound together."
"Jesus Christ," Eames says. He's still got Arthur hanging all over him, grinning into his face like an idiot. It would actually be the best thing ever if he was sure it was safe, but as it is, he's not sure what else the chemicals might be doing to Arthur's uptight, complicated brain.
"Eames," Arthur stage-whispers, way too close. "Knock knock."
Oh, well. Best thing to do is go along with it. Eames leads him to a chair. "Who's there, Arthur?"
"Your mom," Arthur says, then caws out a raucous laugh. "Knock knock!"
Eames rights the chair that Arthur tipped over and sets him down in it. "Who's there?"
Unable to help the smile pulling at his lips this time, he asks, "Doctor Who?"
"HA!" Arthur says, pointing a finger in his face. "Knock knock!"
"Who's there?" Eames says again, along with Michelle, who wants in on it.
"Orange," Arthur says.
"Orange who?" they all ask. Michelle has taken out her phone.
"Orange you glad we're here together?" Arthur says. He plucks at Eames's shirt sleeve, looking so sincerely at him that Eames has to smile back. "It's a beautiful day. I'm glad you're here, Eames. I think about you when I'm alone."
That sends a sharp pang of warning to his gut; he has to shut Arthur up immediately. He turns to see Michelle recording this on her phone.
"This is so priceless," she says, grinning.
The indignation he feels on Arthur's behalf is a surprise, even to him. "Stop," Eames tells her. "It's not like he made the decision to get wasted and make an ass of himself. Turn it off and delete it." Yes, it is amusing, and he'll probably remember this and laugh, and yes, he'll probably tease the shit out of Arthur. But – and this is even more surprising – the thought of someone else humiliating him makes Eames feel a little ill.
"You have to be able to laugh at yourself," Michelle says, but she does turn the phone off.
"That only works when everyone's in on it," Eames tells her, before turning back to Arthur.
Thiery says, "If it's all right, I'm just going to get back to work. This is cute and all, but it's taking up too much of my time."
"Yes, do," Eames says.
Jacobi is murmuring quickly into his phone and jotting down notes. "Uh huh. The same one you used. I didn't ask him. Yes, I did a full intake, but... Okay, right. I didn't know you changed it. So..."
And from Arthur, an urgent litany of, "Eames. Eames. Hey. Eames. Hey. Eames. Hey. Hey."
"Let me show you my capoeira moves. I think we can all benefit from that."
Eames crouches down next to him. "I don't think that's a good idea. We don't have a lot of space here, you see."
"Let's go outside it's a beautiful day I can show you my moves." His inflection is all wrong. It sounds like someone has removed all the punctuation from his sentences.
"I'm sure your moves are flawless," Eames tells him. "But right now you're having a bit of a reaction to a compound and you're acting drunk and uninhibited. Do you understand?"
Arthur says, "The nineties were the best decade. 'Heeyy! Come out and play!' That was a good song. You know what, I can sing and play guitar. FACT. Knock knock."
Patience, Eames reminds himself. None of this is Arthur's fault. "Who's there?"
"My ass. LOL."
Michelle laughs again. "You're not supposed to say 'LOL,' Arthur."
Arthur grins up at her. "I can do whatever I want. Your hair is floating. Can you fly?"
Eames turns back to Jacobi, who is still on the phone. "Add hallucinations to the list."
Jacobi nods and goes back to talking.
"Arthur, how do you feel?" Eames asks.
"Happy." And Arthur actually reaches his hand out towards Eames's face. "You're so bright."
Eames catches his hand gently before he can do anything he's going to feel stupid about later. Stupider. "Anything aside from happy? Physically, how do you feel?"
"Hmmm, too hot, thirsty, hot, and like I want some water. My face is hot. And I can't feel my eyebrows. Did someone shave them off?"
"Let's go to the bathroom and freshen up," Eames says, helping Arthur up. "We'll let Jacobi get this sorted, all right?"
"Are we going to the bathroom?" He tries to shed his jacket with a flourish, but it gets stuck on one arm. "Are we going to the bathroom together! Eames! We can't! I can't pee with someone watching, I get stage fright."
"Don't worry," Eames tells him. Surprisingly, Arthur goes lax and lets Eames take his jacket to drape over the back of the chair. It's alarming how well that worked. "There's nothing to worry about," Eames tells him again. "Just come along."
"You're sparkly," Arthur tells him. "I can see the real you and it's sparkly."
Eames leads him toward the bathroom in the back. Looking over his shoulder, he tells Jacobi, "Get this sorted out!"
Arthur comes along quietly for a few seconds. Then he turns towards Eames and says, "Am I in trouble?" in such a small voice that Eames clenches his hand on his arm.
"No, of course not," he tells him. "Everything is fine. You're just having a reaction to a compound. You're not in trouble. You've done nothing wrong."
Arthur relaxes against him, stumbling a little. "Oh, good. God, I hate being in trouble. I hate it when people yell at me for things, I hate fucking up. It was bad in the army but it was so much worse with my step dad."
Unable to think of anything he wants to say to that, he just keeps his arm around Arthur as he leads him to the bathroom. In the past, he'd wondered about Arthur as a child in the same way he'd wondered about everyone: with idle curiosity. What made a person this thing or that thing? Eames lives for understanding like this. It makes his job easier. But this is too much information, and although his work entails exactly this - using compounds to steal secrets – this time he can't. It's not worth anything to him and it's pointless. And it bothers him. Kind of a lot.
"Think of something funny," Eames tells him. "Or something happy."
"I put you all into an elevator," Arthur says, brightening. "With the inception, I got so mad at everything and Cobb, everything was fucked and I had to fix it and then the timing got all wrong and there was no gravity so I put you into the elevator. Oh my god Eames you were so funny floating around like that, I wish you could have seen yourself. You were like..." Arthur breaks away from him and leans back, closing his eyes and spreading his arms out like he's trying to demonstrate weightlessness. "Whoooooshhh, everyone just flying around the room like in a dream. Well it was a dream but you get me." He stops to giggle at himself.
"Zero-gravity Arthur," Eames says, smiling. "General Relativity Arthur."
"Kickass Arthur," Arthur adds. "Imagination. You were wrong about me you know."
Eames gets him to the bathroom and pushes the door open. "I know," he says. "You did a good job. You always do."
Arthur says, "I like Christopher Walken," and "I like soap," and "I saw a yard gnome when I drove here." Then he sees them both in the dingy mirror and grins at their reflection. He reaches his hand out to trace his fingers down the surface. Eames can't tell whose face he's trying to touch.
Eager to stop staring at the two of them in the mirror, Eames runs a paper towel under the cold water, then offers it to Arthur. When Arthur just stands there grinning at him, Eames holds him steady with a hand behind his neck and wipes the sweat from his face. Arthur sighs happily and closes his eyes. It feels odd, taking care of him like this. Uncomfortable and too close. Something inside of him squirms unpleasantly. The sudden affection he feels is out of place, borne of chemistry gone wrong. This open, happy, unguarded person is not Arthur.
But maybe it is, in a way. This is just what's underneath. True, but it took a cocktail of endorphins and the powering down of his social skills and impulse control to get there. It's not normal.
"Hmm," Arthur sighs, then pulls away abruptly. Before Eames can figure out what he's doing, Arthur leans over the sink and ducks his entire head under the running water.
"Your shirt," Eames says before anything else. The collar is already soaked, clinging to his green silk tie.
But Arthur just says "Hmm" again and turns his head slowly under the cold water, soaking his hair.
"Right, that'll do," Eames says. He shuts off the water and grabs a handful of paper towels, placing his hand on Arthur's shoulder to hold him still while he dries him. "You're soaked and your shirt is probably ruined. Come on, up with you."
Arthur straightens up and Eames hands him a few more of the flimsy paper towels so he can dry his hair as best he can. Arthur takes one and wipes it over his face.
"Eames," he says, muffled, "I can't see you with a paper towel over my face."
It catches up to him, finally, this random Arthur, and Eames leans back against the grimy wall and starts to laugh. Of bloody course Arthur can't see him with a paper towel over his face. He's so ridiculous. Once he starts laughing, he can't seem to stop.
Arthur peers over the top of the paper towel and once again shows him that good-natured, mega-watt smile. "I like that," he says, shy.
"What do you like, Arthur?"
"Your laugh. You don't do it a lot because you're careful with your smiles. But you have a beautiful mouth that should laugh. Your laugh is dark blue, like the number seven. It's like blackberries and I want to put it in a jar and eat it later on toast. "
"You're high, Arthur."
"I am," Arthur agrees. "But I like your laugh when I'm not high, too."
Not wanting to further this, Eames takes the paper towels back from Arthur and blots him down as well as he can. Arthur's hair is standing up in stupid-looking tufts. Eames runs his fingers through it, trying to slick it back into place.
"Let's get back out there and see what Jacobi has come up with, all right? We'll have your dial turned back to 'stodgy' in no time."
Something in Arthur's expression falls, briefly. He looks about to say something, but whatever it is, Eames doesn't want to hear it. He takes Arthur by the arm again and leads him back out.
Obviously having had enough of this shit, Thiery has gone back to work. Michelle and Jacobi stand in the center of the aisle, conferring, while looking at Arthur's readout and the vial of the compound they'd used.
"And?" Eames says.
"Ah," Jacobi says. "Yes, so, temporary and not uncommon. The chemist I learned this compound from was experimenting with topside extraction."
"What the fuck?" Eames says. "Topside extraction? That's called 'tequila.' What the fuck is the point of that?"
"What the fuck!" Arthur adds merrily.
"Gleaning secrets from the cataclysmically wasted is still just as likely to get you killed," Eames says, "because, hello, they remember they told you."
"It's not as dodgy as that," Jacobi says. "They were using it on volunteer mental health patients in a clinical trial. They've had some success, you know."
"Well, Arthur is not a mental health patient."
"But the client was a good candidate for it," Jacobi says.
"Do you still think so?" Eames asks.
"No. Clearly not."
Exasperated, Eames lets go of Arthur for a moment to press his palms against his eyes. They're just wasting time here. Then he feels Arthur's hand on his shoulder, tentative.
"Laugh again," Arthur says.
Eames just gives a reassuring smile before turning back to the rest of the team. "Right, look. How long is this going to last?"
"A few hours," Jacobi says.
"Any lasting side effects?"
"Nothing permanent. Hangover from hell, basically. I really didn't know, guys. Arthur, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," Arthur says. "I feel great. And later I won't be mad at you. I promise. I make mistakes too and I won't yell at you, okay, we can just have a dance off and I'll bet you anything I'm gonna win like when I was square dancing in school with Moira I had a ham sandwich that day and it snowed, remember?"
"Yeah," Jacobi says, "he's not going to be making a hell of a lot of sense for a while, because everything's jumbling together, all different times in his life. Like in dreams."
Arthur gasps, grips Eames's arm and says, "Does that mean I can see the future?"
"So," Jacobi continues, "we can actually do without him today. We really just need Thiery to stay. Arthur can go back to his hotel."
"No," Eames says, "Arthur cannot just go back to his hotel. He won't be able to get himself there and he shouldn't be left alone like this. So." He turns to Arthur, holding him at arms' length, and looks him in the eye. "I'm going to ask you an important question."
"Cool," Arthur says.
"I need your attention and I need you to think carefully about your answer."
"Okay, I'm thinking."
"I haven't asked you yet."
"You've got this drug in your system that's making you act without impulse. Do you follow me?" He waits for Arthur's nod to continue. "We've got the rest of the team here and we can spare one of us. You're going to probably spill a few of your secrets, and say and do things you might regret later. Still with me?"
"Which one of us do you want to come home with you? It doesn't have to be m--"
"You," Arthur says.
"I don't have to think. I like these other guys? But you're the only one I trust. I know you're all, ooooohhh scary and tough and you like to say you'd sell everyone out, blah blah blah." Arthur rolls his eyes dramatically. "But you keep secrets better than everyone because you're careful and you know the value of secrets and I don't think you'll blackmail me and I know you're not going to hurt me or stick a knife in my back or, or throw that bowl of soup at me like when Mom went out that one time and it chipped my tooth but he said I dropped it and I had to pay for it out of my allowance because it was fine china and that's why we can't have nice things. You wouldn't do that to me, because you're Eames."
The rest of the room goes hideously quiet. Jacobi turns away and picks up his notebook to scribble in it, probably nothing, or maybe something like 'Subject relives moments from childhood etc.' Thiery glances up from the foam model and then goes back to cutting. And Michelle just stands there staring, with a look of pity on her face that Eames is glad Arthur will never see.
Arthur, who created gravity once.
"Let's go then," Eames says, grabbing Arthur's jacket off the back of the chair.
He gets Arthur to his rented car and asks which hotel he's staying in. Arthur points up the dirt road and says, "The one past the yard gnome." But when Eames asks for the address, Arthur rattles it off, along with the phone number, room service extension and his hotel room. Then he says "And egg whites on whole grain toast, please, with ketchup and pepper."
"Hungry, are you?" Eames asks, as he pulls away from the dilapidated shopping center.
"Like the wolf, Eames," Arthur says. Then he goes quiet, like someone shut him off, staring up the road at the setting sun.
"Everything all right?"
"I know you," is Arthur's answer. "Sometimes I think I've known you for years."
"Yes, of course. That's because you have."
"I mean sometimes like right now I think I've known you for all of the years, all of the future years too, like a wad of years crumpled like a piece of paper and you can look through the paper and see some of the years." He turns to Eames in the seat, eyes bright with realization. "That's what Jacobi meant about time getting confused. It's the future. He invented time travel. Eames, this is serious. I mean it when I tell you that I can run parkour. Let's hear the radio."
He reaches forward and fumbles with the buttons, pressing all of them repeatedly. The stereo goes from AM to FM to CD to Auxiliary and back to AM. "How the fuck do these buttons work?" Arthur asks. "There should be one for each thing."
Eames turns the radio on for him. Arthur presses the "scan" button and seems to think that each different song is part of a whole thing. He tries to sing along, and is so hilariously late on the uptake that Eames finds himself laughing guiltily. Arthur is going to murder him later. But for right now, they aren't in any danger, and listening to Arthur create a song through the scan function is what Eames calls high entertainment. Really, really high.
"Oh, the good life," Arthur sings, grinning and swaying in the seat, "went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul – Big wheel keep on turning, Proud Mary – want to fuck you like an animal, want to feel you from – you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine..."
Apparently, Arthur knows every song ever recorded, and he sings each snippet without ever settling on one for the entire duration of the ride.
It's dusk when they pull up to the hotel. Eames warns Arthur to be quiet as they go inside, at least until he gets him to his room. Arthur schools his face into the most serious scowl he can muster and presses a finger to his lips. True to his word, he remains stone silent the entire way, leaning against Eames in a way that could pass for friendly or romantic. They probably look like a couple.
When Arthur gets his card key out, he tries three times to swipe it before Eames takes it from him and opens the door.
"Ahhh!" Arthur says once they're inside his room. "It's so hard to be quiet sometimes when all you want to do is sing. Eat. Sing." He throws himself face-down on the bed and simultaneously starts trying to unbutton his shirt, murmuring about wanting to be comfortable when he wakes up with a hangover.
Trying to decide between helping him with his buttons (awkward,) or watching him struggle with them (awkward, amusing, sort of sad,) Eames decides to ring room service and order that egg white thing that Arthur wanted. He asks them for a few bottles of water as well. By the time he's done on the phone, Arthur has flopped onto his back and has given up on the buttons, instead just trying to flap his arms out of his shirt. Eames watches this go on for a few seconds – because it is fucking funny as hell – and then sits on the bed next to him.
"Will it disparage your honor if I offered to help?" he asks. "I don't want to demoralize you in your moment of weakness, but you look as though your fine motor functions are wanting."
"You're always so posh with your big words," Arthur says. "Why do you tease me by pretending you don't understand?"
Instead of answering, Eames gestures toward Arthur's buttons, waiting.
Arthur pulls himself to sit up and says, "Please, demoralize me."
It actually takes him a second to get moving. Then he scoots closer to Arthur on the bed and tries to look everywhere else as he undoes the buttons of his shirt. He can't afford to have Arthur resenting him later or thinking he's some kind of pervert who would leer at him when he can't do anything to stop it. He also can't deny, to himself at least, that he's thought about doing this under different circumstances. Arthur is wearing a white undershirt, and Eames feels a moment of heat which he can only describe to himself as "Victorian." Getting hot over seeing the outline of nipples and fine, dark chest hair is ridiculous. He's seen Arthur shirtless before by necessity.
"I've thought about this," Arthur says. His voice is hushed now instead of boisterous, like he's sharing a secret. "I think about it a lot when we work together, actually."
Eames still can't look at him. "Don't say anything you'll want to take back later, Arthur."
"See, that's the thing, I won't be able to take it back. Words are coming out of me and they're all true, so you know scientifically that I can't make things up now and you'll know it later, and I'll know it later, and everyone will know it later which is why I'm glad it was you who brought me here, otherwise who knows, this might end up on someone's camera phone or in someone's notes. I like them, but I don't trust them. I trusted Dom but you saw how that turned out. I trusted my Mom and that didn't turn out so good either. Since I can't lie right now then you should know that I'd never sell you out, I really didn't know that the mark had this issue otherwise I would have told you, I also didn't know..."
"I know, Arthur," Eames says as he finishes up the last button and pushes the shirt off his shoulders.
Arthur starts struggling again, but his cufflinks are still on. "Fucking armholes," he says. "Why won't this shirt fuck off, so frustrating."
Eames undoes his cufflinks and yanks the sleeves off, staring uncomfortably at Arthur's right wrist.
"I really am impressed by you,"Arthur says, "and although I got tired of trying to get your approval a long time ago, I still like it when you say I'm the best."
This time, Eames meets his eyes. They are bleary and exhausted, but – he notes for the first time – exactly as honest as they always are. It's actually not that different. "But you are the best, Arthur. You don't need me to tell you that."
"I know, but I'm attracted to you and we always subconsciously seek the approval of people we want to sleep with, that's human nature. I just stopped trying to get you into bed with me because I didn't want to be a creep and make you feel awkward because I like working with you and I can't afford to lose you as a colleague. I'd be fucked forever if word got out that Mr. Eames didn't want to work with me. Well, you'd be fucked forever too if I didn't want to work with you, too, so you know, on that we're even."
After a moment of stunned silence, Eames gets his mouth to work. "This is not something we should be discussing right now. Anything I say, I'll be saying to the wrong person. Let's have this conversation when you're back to being yourself."
"Not gonna happen," Arthur says.
"I'll make sure it happens."
A knock on the door ends the conversation anyway, as room service delivers the food and bottles of water. Eames tells Arthur to sit on the bed and stay quiet while he takes care of the bill, which Arthur obediently does. Then he tears into the food like he hasn't eaten in weeks. For a second Eames thinks that Arthur has possibly unhinged his jaw to eat faster, and he may be scarred for life.
"Jesus, Arthur," he says. "That sandwich didn't stand a chance."
"I really love sandwiches," Arthur says, before sucking down a bottle of water. "There's something so perfect about them, the symmetry of two slices on the outside, the center of them like a secret, and they way they're cut down the middle, or diagonally, I love when sandwiches are cut diagonally and every bite is a work of art, your teeth making fractal upon fractal around the edges, if you look at it that way it's like the sandwich goes on forever. Which it doesn't... unless! Unless you count how it gets absorbed into your body, isn't that amazing? It becomes molecules in your body so in a way it never ends, parts of that sandwich will be with me for years even after I shit it out, and then the body remakes itself every few years but the molecules of that sandwich still exist somewhere, because nothing ever goes away and, oh shit, maybe they somehow get into other food and I eat parts of this same exact sandwich all over again. And maybe, maybe, in the circle of life, you eat or breathe those molecules too, and that sandwich connects us forever."
"That," Eames says, "is the most disgusting thing anyone's ever said to me."
"It's not disgusting," Arthur says, exultant. "It's the cosmos. Everything is connected atomically. The sandwich is the universe. You are the universe and the sandwich. That's how the sandwich becomes sentient. The sandwich does go on forever and so do we. Eames, the universe is so amazing."
Arthur drops the empty water bottle and falls sideways across the bed. After a brief, tense moment during which Eames checks his pulse to make sure he hasn't died or anything, he concludes that Arthur is just sleeping. Sleeping quite uncomfortably, it looks like.
Well, he's got to at least get him out of his shoes and his belt. Taking off his shoes is no problem, but the belt is more personal and this time Eames does let himself think about what he's doing. What it would be like to unbuckle Arthur's belt while he's awake and completely himself. What it would be like to slide it out of the loops of his beautifully-fitted trousers and curl his hands around Arthur's narrow hips. It's okay to think about that, because Arthur's thought about it, too.
"Christ," Eames mutters. Indelicately, he arranges Arthur on the bed so that he's lying on his side, in case he does some mad thing like choke on his own vomit. Then he shoves a pillow under Arthur's cheek so that he doesn't get a crick in his neck. Arthur makes a noise like "Mmph," curls his hand around the pillow and then drools onto it. He's got a touch of ketchup on his nose (how the hell did it get all the way there?) which Eames wipes away with his thumb. Arthur is a mess, with his hair in disarray, lines around his eyes, sandwich crumbs on his chin, and a still slightly-damp undershirt. He'll probably hate Eames when he wakes up, or go running out of the room in mortification.
Still, Eames has never wanted anyone more than he wants Arthur right now, and he knows that's bullshit, because this isn't Arthur.
He crosses the room, curls up in the chair in the far corner, and tries very hard not to think about anything.
He must have dozed off for a while, because when he hears Arthur get up, it's totally dark outside, and none of the lights in the room are on. He waits until Arthur is in the bathroom before cracking his eyes open and checking the digital clock. 8:15 PM. They've missed the whole day of work, but that's fine. They'll catch up.
In the small, quiet room, he can hear Arthur shuffling out of his trousers, clearing his throat, running the water, brushing his teeth. The shower comes on, which is a good sign that Arthur's feeling steadier, at least. He's not looking forward to the conversation that's coming. Even if Arthur isn't 100% when he gets out, they're still going to have to talk about this.
Within ten minutes, the water in the bathroom is off and now Arthur is shuffling around, getting dressed, and then stalling. Eames can actually hear him stalling. Finally, with a sigh, Arthur opens the door. Steam billows out behind him. He's already in jeans and a new dress shirt, buttoned up but with no tie, no waistcoat. He stares at Eames as he does up his cufflinks. It's awkward, but Arthur doesn't look away.
Unable to just sit there any longer, Eames gets up, stretches, and turns on the light.
"All right, Arthur?"
Arthur gives him a small smile. "My head feels like aliens are hatching inside of it. I am completely humiliated. But otherwise all right."
"Nah," Eames says. "Don't be. It was just us, for most of it."
"I know. I remember everything. In detail."
"Ah." He can't think of anything to say to that, and eventually the silence draws on for too long. "Do you really know capoeira?"
Arthur huffs out a little laugh. "I know some, but that doesn't mean I'm any good. I'm more suited to other martial arts. That compound must have had tequila in it. I thought I was good at everything."
"Well generally, you are," Eames says.
Arthur seats himself on the edge of the bed. Eames sits back down on the chair, keeping his distance.
Arthur looks him in the eye and says, "I really hope you'll accept my apology."
"For heaven's sake, what for?"
"Don't pull the British polite thing with me. You know what for. For the way I acted and the things I said to you. For being inappropriate and putting you on the spot. I didn't mean to. And I really don't want it to affect our working relationship."
Greatly daring, Eames says, "Don't you?"
Arthur presses his lips together with a tight little shake of his head. "I can't afford that."
"You didn't offend me, darling."
"I like when you say that," Arthur says. Then he snaps his mouth shut and looks away.
"Still having some after effects?"
Another small shake of his head. "It's not that, exactly. I guess... it felt good, the freedom. There was this chemical reward system for telling the truth. I don't feel compelled to say things right now, but saying them still gives me that feedback loop. I'm sorry. I just hope you can forgive me, and we can move on from this."
"Well," Eames says, rising from his seat, "yes and no. Yes, of course I can forgive you, because you've done nothing wrong. As for moving on from it, I'm not so sure."
He offers his hand to help Arthur up. To his surprise, Arthur accepts. But then he can't seem to do more than stand next to the bed looking unsure. His defenses are back up and he's visibly fortifying them.
"We need to talk about it," Eames says. Before Arthur can object, he continues, "Over dinner, maybe? Since we're not needed for the rest of the day, and I'm starving."
Arthur opens his mouth to say something, then shuts it. Opens it again, thinks for a second, then closes it.
"Have dinner with me, Arthur."
"Yes." Eames is close to him now, and Arthur isn't showing any signs of backing down. "Yeah, me and you, dinner. Not a promise, not a declaration of love or even of intention, but I would like to know you more. I think you're, well, delightful, really, and it's not just because of today. Or, well in a way it is, but only because I never knew, you see."
"I don't want to put you on the spot," Arthur says, cautious.
"The spot's not so terrible a place to be," Eames says.
And then because he's not moving away and Arthur's not moving away, he leans in a little closer and Arthur blinks, says, "oh," in a surprised little voice and Eames is brushing his lips against Arthur's, just a touch. He's got to lean up a little because Arthur's got about an inch and a half on him, the bastard – how did he not notice this before? How did he not notice the curve of Arthur's bottom lip before? He'd always thought Arthur fit, and very hot, but the angle of his jaw, the planes of his face, and his mouth... how had Eames missed all of these details and still called himself observant?
Arthur kisses back shyly at first, still unsure, but then his hand comes up to cup Eames's elbow and he opens his mouth, relaxes a little bit and breathes. Eames cups Arthur's jaw and sucks on his bottom lip, letting Arthur's tongue flit across his top one.
As first kisses go, it's one of Eames's nicer ones.
When he slyly opens his eyes to check how he's doing, he sees Arthur's eyes still closed, brows drawn together in something like torment. He'd never really thought about it, the possibility that Arthur might really want this.
Arthur winds a hand around the back of his neck, fingers toying gently with his hair. Clearly, he's done testing the waters, because he's bolder with his tongue now – entreating, asking without words.
With sudden clarity, Eames is sure--positive, convinced--that Arthur has kissed him like this before. Even though he knows logically that he never has. The shape of him is too familiar, too intimate. ' I think I've known you for all of the years, all of the future years too, like a wad of years crumpled like a piece of paper...'
That bit of drug-addled babble hits him all of a sudden, causing a strange and alien panic to clench at his chest. He wants to push Arthur off of him, but he can't. That would be the worst thing to do. So Eames draws away slowly, and when Arthur tries to follow, he stops him with a hand on his shoulder.
"Anything I do after this," Eames tells him, "will be taking advantage. And I'm fine with taking advantage in most situations, but not this. You're not yourself."
"I am," Arthur says. "I'm just myself times a hundred." Still, he stands down, taking a small step back.
The space between them feels like a void, but Eames is glad for it. He can breathe again, instead of squirming on the end of a hook, gasping for freedom.
"Dinner, then," Arthur says. "Just to talk." The glint of hope in his eyes does nothing to settle Eames's suddenly nervous stomach. He wants to bolt out of the room.
But he promised. He promised Arthur that he'd done nothing wrong, and that this would never affect their work. He can do that; he can take the man to dinner and let himself be charmed, a little, at least. And he can run any time he wants. Arthur--steadfast, driven, and dedicated to his job—wouldn't ever stonewall him over romantic rejection. If it should come to that. Which it could, should Eames ever need to run away from him, back into the safety that is Distant Arthur and Uninterested Arthur. Away from this Arthur who kisses him like he's been doing it for decades, and what the hell was that about?
It's likely that Arthur can see him thinking these exact things, and even more unsettling is the way he no longer looks unsure. Like a man who already knows the score. Eames can almost hear Arthur's smug, 'You're not going anywhere, are you?'
He might, though. Running is easy; Eames does it all the time.
"Let's go," Eames tells him. "There's a restaurant downstairs and I'm famished."
"You should have gotten yourself some room service," Arthur tells him. "It was really good."
"Oh, the Cosmic Sandwich?"
"I don't even remember how I got to the point of that, but yeah." He runs a hand through his hair, which is loose and damp and un-gelled. He's going out with it like that, Eames realizes, watching Arthur slip into his suit jacket.
Oh god, he's wearing bluejeans and a striped shirt and a jacket and Eames wants to fling him back onto the bed.
"Well," he says, distracting himself, "it had to do with how we're all connected through shit, or something."
Arthur cringes. "Sorry about that."
"Let's not dwell on that during dinner."
Arthur shoves his wallet into his back pocket, casual, like they hadn't just made out in a hotel room. Is this how Arthur is normally? Passionate and casual, funny and stern, and deep and shallow, drooling onto the pillows and then looking edible in jeans?
Eames swallows hard and tries not to look at him. Maybe, maybe not. He'll give Arthur a few hours tonight. A few hours over dinner to find out if he's worth that terrible familiarity that Eames felt in his kiss, that dooming sense of inevitability.
A few hours, and then he can run. If he still wants to.
** ** ** **