Three months after the Fischer Job, Arthur and Eames both end up working for an extractor named Kent, who is nothing as good as Cobb is, but nonetheless gets the job done. However, despite a carefully outlined schedule, Arthur and Eames both hit the meeting-point for their payoff at the same time – a downmarket East Indian restaurant in a shady part of London – which is a screw-up that Arthur doesn’t know whether he should blame on Kent or on Eames (but definitely doesn’t blame on himself.)
“This is my time, Eames.” He says, sliding into the red velvet booth by the door. They’re supposed to wait six minutes and then the waiter will come and pass them their menus; the money will be inside.
Well, he’s supposed to wait six minutes. Eames isn’t supposed to be there.
Eames shrugs and smiles, “Funny, I was certain it was mine.”
They both get paid, though, and no one raises a fuss about it. Afterwards Arthur finds Eames trailing him as he heads north up the street. He’s got nowhere in particular to go just yet – his plane isn’t for hours (he’s headed to Tokyo, for no other reason that he’s found that he really likes the way a man in a well-tailored suit can disappear in Tokyo) – so he leads Eames on a merry chase through as many back alleys as he can, pretending he’s on a sight-seeing tour of a place with absolutely no sights to see except the graffiti on the walls – and suddenly comes around a corner to find Eames leaning against a mailbox smoking a cigarette and not even out of breath.
“If you think you could possibly lose me in my own neighbourhood, Arthur, you are sadly mistaken.”
Arthur looks around at the buildings, which look like they have been standing since London was perpetually blanketed in a heavy layer of coal smoke and are now softened by years of rain; most of the windows are curtained with towels or tinfoil, one is home to a gamey-looking cat, and at least two people, somewhere nearby, are having a massive screaming fight, complete with the sound of broken dishes and a dog barking. He can’t imagine Eames, as ridiculously suave as he is, riding his bike along this street or hanging with the gang of rough-looking kids at the corner.
Then he thinks about the tattoos, and maybe it’s just a little more possible. Maybe Eames is so perfectly suave because he practiced it in a mirror, like a particularly expert forge.
“If you think this is smashing, you should see where I live now.”
And so, Arthur does, allowing Eames to take him to a tidy, posh walk-up, half the city away. There’s no personality at all in the plush white carpet and the smooth, stiff, white leather living room furniture. Arthur takes one look around and says, “You don’t live here.”
“You caught me out,” Eames laughs, “it’s just a rental.” He goes to the fridge in the adjoining kitchen, and when it opens, Arthur sees an assortment of liquor, a bottle of mustard and not much else. “But you’re still welcome to stay.”
Arthur does that too, and although they haven’t actually spoken at any length since the Fischer job, and their interaction on their latest job was nothing but professional (Eames had dialled back his requisite flirting, refrained from calling Arthur anything but his name) they talk easily about frankly ridiculous things like the falling concentration of pigeons in Trafalgar Square and Arthur’s blinding hatred of the use of processed cheese slices in otherwise expensive turkey-on-rye sandwiches; and then they fuck on the sofa, like teenage boys. Arthur manages to get everything off but his shirt and tie, Eames barely opens the front of his pants.
Arthur has a plane to catch, so the possibility of staying the night never even comes into the picture, for which Arthur is grateful. For a man who spends his professional life sharing his dreams with other people, he’s deeply uncomfortable sleeping next to another person recreationally; though he has done both with Eames before.
He gets a text message when he lands in Tokyo, reading You left me a cufflink darling didn’t know you cared. Arthur hadn’t even noticed the looseness in his sleeve, considering the fact that his shirt was already hopelessly wrinkled and the cuff of his jacket had held it more or less in place.
Don’t lose it he instructs.
Eames responds, I’ll hold it in trust until we meet again.
Arthur doesn’t really think of Eames beyond that – he takes his time in Tokyo, ends up on another job, and periodically checks for text messages out of habit. It’s easy to compartmentalize – the Eames that he works with, the Eames that he flirts with, and the Eames he (impulsively) has sex with when the opportunity presents itself are all different people for him; and surely it's the same for Eames as well.
He doesn’t see or hear from Eames for the better part of six months, and he gives up hope of ever getting his cufflink back – a damn shame considering they were his favourite pair – and then one day he walks out of his hotel in Hong Kong and Eames falls into step alongside him, holding out his hand, the tiny piece of silver catching the glow of neon and shining in his palm.
“Where have you been keeping that?”
“Close to my heart,” Eames responds, reaching over and dropping it into Arthur’s jacket pocket. “Please tell me you’re going out to eat – I’m famished.”
Eames seems to have an unnatural ability to find the smallest, darkest dive restaurants in whatever city he's in – to the extent that Arthur worries he might unwittingly breed a drug-resistant strain of the stomach flu. Still, he also seems to have a knack for finding delicious cuisine in amongst the truly horrifying things one might normally find offered in Hong Kong's back alleys, which is how they end up eating fabulous Jook-sing noodles at a table in what Arthur suspects is actually someone's living room.
"How is Cobb?" Eames asks, "And the children?"
Eames looks at him over the slightly grimy lip of his water glass, "I hear James broke his arm."
Arthur scowls, "Are you testing me or something, Eames? They're fine. Lots of kids break their arms."
"Did I what?"
"Did you break your arm?" Eames gestures at Arthur with his chopsticks, the pinnacle of bad manners.
"No, actually. I broke my foot, though, jumping from my bedroom window."
That brings a smile to Eames' face. "Thought you'd go on the lam?"
"Something like that." If he could go back, he would still have jumped, he thinks. Those few seconds of weightlessness were amazing.
They talk about Ariadne's studies, about Yusuf's research, and about Saito's latest corporate takeover. They talk like old friends, which Arthur supposes they are; he’s known Eames for nearly as long as he’s known Cobb, and he doesn’t have any friends older than Cobb, anymore. There are a great many things that Eames has been in his mind at one time or another – among them friend, conman, asshole, shameless flirt and even, occasionally, a closet genius.
They leave the restaurant and buy coffee from a street vendor. Eames also buys a pack of horrifically-overpriced cigarettes, against Arthur’s better advice.
He is smoking one of said overpriced cigarettes, lying on his stomach with one hand idly massaging Arthur’s bare ankle, hours later as they both watch the local news. A young girl is missing, the economy is down and the next seven days are going to be deplorably hot, but Arthur isn’t really listening; he’s enjoying the rare opportunity to run his fingers along the lines of ink on Eames’ bare hip and thigh, and to enjoy the sight of the curve of his ass, lit by nothing but the soft glow of the television.
Arthur falls asleep watching the stock exchange ticker and when he wakes up the next morning. There’s a note left on the bedside table that reads, duty calls.
He feels ridiculously disappointed.
Three weeks later, Arthur is checking his email in a cafe in Johannesburg when he gets one of those obnoxious musical e-cards from Eames – a collection of badly-animated cartoon cats singing “Apologize” – but the apology isn’t for anything Arthur might suspect. The text reads I found your tiepin caught in the hem of my trousers when I went through airport security. Imagine my surprise.
Arthur tracks the email back to its source using an IP address (it’s not sloppiness on Eames’ part, he thinks, though he could be wrong) and books a flight.
Something in the job Eames is working must go wrong before Arthur gets there, because Arthur finds him checked into a hospital in Lamia under an assumed name. He’s asleep when Arthur arrives, looking pale against the crisp linens, except for where his face is bruised from repeated impacts with a well-trained fist. He’s on an IV drip and there’s a large, blood-stained bandage on the right side of his chest. Arthur sits in the stiff, uncomfortable chair by the window and watches the sun set while the meal cart rattles by and when Eames wakes up about an hour after the dark settles in, the first thing he says is, “Your tiepin nearly got me a pat-down at the airport, you know.”
“Only nearly? That’s too bad; I know you would have enjoyed that.”
Eames smiles crookedly with his swollen lips, “You’re the only one I want with hands down my trousers.”
The words feel distinctly like a kick to the throat and Arthur laughs to keep from choking, “How many painkillers have they given you?”
“Not more than I can handle,” Eames flaps his hand dismissively, yawns.
“Yeah, well I’m going to talk to the doctors about that.”
Eames’ answering cough sounds incredibly painful, “You know what I’m bloody sick of? Damned incompetent point men. From now on, only you, Arthur.”
“Please,” Arthur snorts, “Be realistic, Eames. You’re not that sort of man.”
It doesn’t occur to Arthur exactly what he’s saying until Eames falls back asleep.
The next morning, Arthur checks Eames out of the hospital with a bottle of Vicodin in one pocket and a bottle of antibiotics in the other. Unable to track down the rest of Eames’ team from his last job, they simply check into a hotel to lie low and spend the rest of Eames’ convalescence charging Pay-Per-View movies to one of Arthur’s dozen fake credit cards. Eames gives up on the Vicodin after three days of almost non-stop complaints about how it makes the soles of his feet itch, and thereafter makes due with over the counter medication and Arthur’s slow, attentive blowjobs to help him forget that he feels “like someone stuck a straight razor up under his ribs.”
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” Eames tells him, one night while they’re watching late-night reruns of The Office with Greek voiceovers.
“Don’t worry about it. I always wanted to be a nurse.”
Eames’ eyes flit away from the television screen for the first time in hours and lock on Arthur’s face, “Really?”
“No,” Arthur laughs, “I wanted to be a classical pianist.”
"And how close did you come?"
There’s little he can do but shrug, "I was set for three different auditions after high school."
"And?" Eames presses, obviously deeply curious now.
“There was no ‘and.’” Arthur replies flatly, “I didn’t go. I went to business school, I met Mal, and eventually, I became a criminal.”
He waits for Eames to ask him why or to ask him if he regretted it, but instead, Eames turns his gaze back towards the television and is quiet for the rest of the night. The next morning, he is gone when Arthur wakes up. There’s no note, so Arthur waits a day before he decides to check out, and as he is packing his bag, he realizes that he can’t find his watch anywhere; even though he’s sure he left it with his shaving kit on the bathroom counter.
He’s in a taxi on the way to the airport when Eames calls him.
“You’re not going to believe this, Arthur, but I found your watch in my laptop bag this morning.”
“You’re right,” Arthur scowls at his own reflection in the taxi’s rear-view mirror, “I don’t believe it. I think you might be a kleptomaniac.”
Eames laughs, “I swear it wasn’t intentional.”
“You’d better get my watch back to me, Eames; and you never gave me my tie pin.”
He’s checking in for his flight when he realizes that he never got his cufflink either – he thought it had fallen from his pocket, somewhere on the streets of Hong Kong, but all of a sudden that’s much harder to believe.
Arthur is not a first-class point man for nothing, and he has an extensive enough knowledge of Eames’ habits and aliases to make his life difficult. Eames is careful to guard his secrets, but where Arthur is concerned, there’s no such thing as careful enough. It takes Arthur nine days to track down something he thinks might actually be a permanent or semi-permanent address for one Percival Eames – a flat in a sandstone tenement building on a quiet, tree-lined street in Glasgow.
Eames isn’t there, of course, but signs of him are – wrinkled shirts draped over pieces of furniture, dirty dishes in the sink, a basket of Macintosh apples and a book with a bookmark in it on the small kitchen table. There are signs of Arthur too – his silver cufflink in the basket full of keys and pocket change by the door, his watch on Eames’ bedside table, his tiepin stuck to the fridge with a magnet – and things he never knew he was missing – pens and socks, a coffee mug, and most prolifically, scribbled notes and doodles on crumpled paper that had at some point probably been fished from the trash.
There’s a rough sketch of a man’s hand on a page torn from one of Arthur’s favoured moleskines that is framed and hung on the wall behind the tartan-patterned sofa; and Arthur wonders if Eames knows that the hand is his own.
The hand-crafted frame and its place of honour, suggests he probably does.
There’s no accurate sign of when, exactly, Eames might be returning home – though the fresh fruit on the counter suggests it won’t be too long (unless he’s arrested for something, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility) so Arthur takes the book that Eames has clearly been reading from the kitchen and settles himself on the hideous sofa.
He opens the cover and is duly informed by the handwriting on the inside that this is actually his copy of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep.
At the tell-tale jangle of keys in the lock a few hours later, Arthur gets up and opens the door.
"So – it looks like you really are a kleptomaniac."
Eames has a bag of groceries in one hand and a newspaper rolled up under his arm; he's wearing the most hideous grey and green entrelac sweater over jeans with holes in the knees and something that looks like paint splattered on them, not to mention he's desperately in need of a shave; but somehow the combined effect makes Arthur want to kiss him, rather than punch him in the mouth – which is what he had originally planned.
"And you," Eames says, when he finally collects himself and manages to stop looking flabbergasted, "are clearly someone who doesn't understand the purpose of door locks."
"I understand perfectly," Arthur steps back, allowing Eames past him into the apartment, "I just don't feel I have to respect them, in this case. The apartment is full of my things, anyhow."
Eames deposits the bag of groceries on the table, shrugging in a way that clearly indicates he can't argue with Arthur's logic on that point.
"Now, if you'd care to tell me why you've been stealing from me..."
"I haven't been stealing." Eames points to the book still in Arthur's hand, "That book you simply neglected to take with you when you left the hotel in San Pedro. For example.”
“I’ll give you that,” Arthur perches on the kitchen table, “but I know I didn’t leave my watch behind for you to just pick up. I’d like it back, by the way.”
Eames gestures towards the bedroom, winking, “Be my guest.”
It’s too easy, so Arthur doesn’t move. If he emptied every possession of his out of Eames’ flat, there’d be almost nothing left. It wouldn’t be barren though – there’s a hand-knit rainbow scarf that once belonged to Ariadne wound around the base of a table lamp; a copy of T.S. Elliot’s poetry with Yusuf’s name written on the inside cover set on the coffee table; a handful of beads that Arthur thinks he recognizes from a necklace that belonged to Mal, which broke at a party, are collected in a mason jar on the windowsill in the kitchen; there’s a dried-out lump of modeling clay, with Phillipa’s fingerprints pressed into it next to a blue plastic soother set atop the television; and a Zippo lighter engraved with Cobb’s initials set carefully on the bookshelf. There are also at least two dozen small, seemingly meaningless items scattered about the apartment that Arthur can’t easily identify.
“You’re not a kleptomaniac,” Arthur concludes, as Eames pours them each a glassful of scotch from a bottle in the cupboard. “You’re a magpie.”
“That might be true,” Eames nods solemnly. He looks less embarrassed now, more resigned to the finality of Arthur’s judgement.
“And so many of these things are mine because...”
Now, finally, Eames’ eyes flick away, looking towards the hazy light coming in through the window, where it’s raining outside. “Well, what would happen if I ran out of reasons to keep you coming back?”
Arthur drains his glass, sets it next to his hip on the tabletop, and grabs a handful of Eames’ ugly but pleasantly soft sweater, pulling him until he steps forward so their legs touch. Eames brings a hand up and touches him warily, palm on the side of his neck, down his shoulder, fingers curling around Arthur’s wrist like he’s thinking he might have to stop Arthur from taking a swing at him.
“You could just call me like a normal person – send me a text message – something...sane; instead of moving me into your apartment piece by piece.”
Eames’ eyes lock themselves somewhere in the vicinity of Arthur’s lips; Arthur thinks that if he were to kiss Eames now, he might go permanently cross-eyed. “You could move out piece by piece.”
“Are you kidding? Where do I even have room to keep all this stuff?”
And, truthfully, they’ve been together in anonymous hotel rooms for years, sharing sex, secrets, and sometimes dreams – they’ve simply never shared a more permanent personal space – but since Eames has feathered the nest, it seems a shame not to use it.
“You’re a hopeless romantic,” Arthur declares, shaking his head.
“Does that mean you won’t be staying for dinner?”
Arthur isn't particularly eager to admit that he doesn't know exactly what it means. He does stay for dinner, however; on the grounds that he is sick of traveling (though after so many years, he doesn't so much suffer from jet lag as from a semi-permanent displacement of space and time) and that Eames is really an excellent cook. Arthur ducks into the shower after, to wash off the travel grime, and he’s towelling his hair when he steps out into the bedroom to find Eames sitting on the bed in just his jeans.
“I was wrong,” Arthur sighs, draping the towel around his shoulders, “you’re not a hopeless romantic – you’re just hopeless.”
Eames shrugs, “Well I didn’t take my trousers off – I thought that might be a bit presumptuous. But then here you are with your bits on display...”
Arthur throws the towel at Eames’ head, and Eames laughs, lunging forward and making a grab for him that Arthur could easily dodge, but why bother? He’s naked already, and he always enjoys peeling Eames out of his pants. Eames seems shocked by his easy victory, and they tumble back onto the bed with just a little too much momentum; it protests their impact, and Arthur narrowly misses giving Eames an elbow to the sternum as he leans in meet Eames in a messy kiss, palms cupping his stubble-rough cheeks, then turns Eames’ head and kisses beneath his ear as Eames’ fingers drag down his back.
“I want you to fuck me,” Arthur instructs, because he believes in being very specific about these things, and Eames does best if given direct instruction.
“Lord, yes – whatever you say,” Eames digs his fingers into Arthur’s ass, pulls him forward, “in the drawer...”
Arthur finds a bottle of lube and a strip of condoms in the drawer of the bedside table; he’d be offended, but he recognizes the brand as ones he bought himself, back in Hong Kong. Still he teases, “I hope you didn’t use any of these without me.”
Eames shakes his head against the pillow, “No, Arthur. I promise.”
Arthur feels ridiculously proud, for a reason he can’t accurately pinpoint. “You’re so sentimental, Percy.”
Eames turns instantly red, all the way up his neck and into his ears, “Please don’t – honestly, no one’s called me ‘Percy’ since Primary School – it’s deplorable.”
“You don’t even know how to spell deplorable.”
“D-E-P...” Eames breaks off in a moan, bucking up helplessly as Arthur grinds his palm against the bulge in his jeans. “Oh fuck, Arthur.”
“Wrong already,” Arthur scolds, dragging Eames’ pants down; Eames wastes no time in kicking them away. “That’s shameful.”
Eames grabs him, hauling him in for a kiss that becomes a battle of lips, tongues and teeth. It’s a calculated distraction that Eames probably hopes will keep Arthur from noticing the fact that he’s got the bottle of lube in his hand. Arthur lets him have the delusion, since it earns him slick fingers, rubbing behind his balls and sliding into his body. The stretch of it makes his shoulders tense and his fingers curl in the bed sheets next to Eames’ head.
“There...” Eames breathes out against his jaw, the exhalation followed by a long drag of tongue, “isn’t that good, now? You like the way that feels, don’t you, darling?”
Part of Arthur wants to deny it – because Eames hardly needs any more reasons to be ridiculously full of himself – but there are only so many lies he can tell and still get what he wants; so he says, “Yes, alright – yes, Eames. God-damn,” exhaling hard when Eames gets his fingers deep and right into that perfect position.
Though he knows Eames is more than proficient at taking him apart with just two fingers, Arthur makes himself drag Eames’ hand away, pushing it to the bed as he grabs for the condom. Eames stops him with a hand on his hip when he’s just in position – when all he needs to do is relax his legs and let his weight do the work, and he can feel the tip of Eames’ cock, hot through the latex, already rubbing against him.
“Slow now, darling, slowly – I want to see...” his hands grip Arthur’s thighs, holding him back until Arthur is digging his fingernails into the inked lines on Eames’ chest and biting his lower lip, inching down and down at a pace that makes the whole thing seem like it’s never going to end. Then, all of a sudden, his ass meets Eames’ thighs, jolting a moan from his chest. It burns, aches, and feels fantastic all at the same time; his cock is leaking a puddle on to Eames’ abs that is, frankly, embarrassing.
“God,” Eames exhales sharply, his grip on Arthur’s thighs loosening at last, leaving behind throbbing points where his fingertips have dug in. He runs his hands down Arthur’s thighs and back up, presses his thumbs into Arthur’s hips. “You’re so bloody gorgeous.”
“Fuck – shut up,” Arthur wants it to be a warning, but it comes out as a laugh as he shakes his head to try and get the sweat out of his eyes. He lifts his hips, lets them drop, and the second time, Eames surprises him by thrusting up to meet him – it’s so good that it takes Arthur’s breath away for a second. That must show on his face, because Eames’ eyes go dark and his hips still; he looks smug until Arthur twists one of his nipples.
“Bloody Hell,” Eames hisses, hand dragging down Arthur’s stomach and encircling his cock in a rough, hot, sweaty grip. Arthur can feel his cock throb, deep inside. “Do that again.”
Arthur tries, but it’s hard as hell to concentrate when he can’t decide if he wants to push himself forward into Eames’ hand or backwards onto his cock. Eames is hardly helping, spouting endless filth – about how incredible Arthur looks, how good he feels, goading him on with, “Come on Arthur, come on darling – give me everything you’ve got.”
Arthur’s come stripes across Eames’ chest; a bit catches him on the chin and he finally shuts up, eyes squeezing shut as he thrusts twice more into Arthur’s body before going still. Arthur holds himself up as long as he can – feeling the throb of his own pulse against his skin and the soothing rush of pleasure all the way out to the tips of his fingers and toes before he pulls himself to the side and collapses onto the bed. He can’t help but notice that it’s more than big enough for two grown men, and although he knows that Eames is something of a devout hedonist, he can’t help but think that this is more than deliberate.
It’s comfortable, though, soft and just a little bit saggy in that way that always wonderful, though terrible for the spine; and Arthur’s so relaxed he doesn’t even care when Eames rolls over and pins him to the mattress with one enormous arm, nuzzling into his neck.
He does, however, think to ask, “What are you going to steal this time?”
“Mmm?” Eames pauses in what is very obviously an attempt to give Arthur a massive and offensive hickey on his neck. “What’s that, darling?”
When Arthur tips his head and summons the energy to open his eyes, all he sees is the tangled mess of Eames’ dirty blonde hair. He’s feeling generous, so he brings his fingers up and winds them through it. “What are you going to steal to get me back here this time?”
He’s going to tell Eames it doesn’t have to be anything, actually, but he wants to hear if Eames has a plan, first, so that he can feel proud of his ability to circumvent it.
Eames laughs, puffing warm air against the tender skin behind Arthur’s ear. “Arthur,” he says, practically oozing confidence in a way only he can, “this time, I’m stealing you.”
And well, Arthur thinks, that’s probably not such a bad thing, after all.