It starts when they get drunk in Rio one night, after a job well done, and Arthur thinks it's because they're drunk on easy success and far too much wine that everything is as ridiculous and hilarious as it is. Eames catches the pocket of his blazer on the doorknob as they stumble into Arthur's room, tearing it, and they're giggling so hard that they wind up on the floor with Arthur kissing the hysterically dismayed look off of Eames's face. They knock a lamp off of an end table trying to get up, send the television remote skittering across the floor and under one of the beds, bump Arthur's suitcase and send its contents spilling onto the carpet. And Arthur doesn't care in the slightest, because he's too busy laughing and kissing and gasping for breath, and so is Eames. Arthur finally sprawls across the bed on his back, tie vanished into the ether, one foot still in its shoe and the other one completely bare, grinning up so hard at Eames that he can feel his face dimpling. And Eames, Eames rewards him with the world's most ridiculous strip tease, torn coat and all, and by the time he falls onto the mattress next to Arthur, Arthur's not sure he's going to be able to fight down the helpless giggling long enough to have sex. But then Eames rolls towards him and catches him in a kiss, soft and gentle and warm, and Arthur's hips roll towards his on autopilot, and it turns out that drunk giggly sex is actually a lot of fun after all.
And if Eames hums the guitar solo to 'Octopus's Garden' while zerberting Arthur's belly as a precursor to blowing him, well. They are drunk, after all, and Arthur long ago gave up on any pretense of dignity around Eames.
Arthur wakes the next morning with cottonmouth and one of Eames's tattooed arms wrapped around his chest, pinning him in place. Eames is snoring in his ear, his hair askew and morning breath just as bad as Arthur's. All in all, it's not quite what he's used to, Arthur thinks as he stretches out as best as he can without disturbing Eames. He's neither preparing to sneak out the door nor planning out every detail of a long-term future with Eames, and as the forger's grey eyes slide open, Arthur is surprised to realize that he's genuinely curious to see where this goes.
"G'morning," Eames murmurs, nuzzling Arthur's shoulder.
"Hey," Arthur replies, quirking a smile.
Eames shifts, and they both make a face as it becomes apparent that they're sticky and covered in dried bodily fluids. "Shower, then?"
"Shower," Arthur agrees. And he's been with guys who would have been slamming him against the wall the moment the spray came on, but this morning it's nice to stretch the hangover out of his sore muscles under the warm water as Eames runs clever fingers through his hair, rubbing his scalp as he works the shampoo in. Eames gives him a shampoo mohawk, and Arthur retaliates by giving him a soap lather beard, and then they're kissing, Eames's big hands splayed across Arthur's back as they curl together. They make out lazily until the water runs cold, and then Eames rolls up his towel and thwaps Arthur on the ass when they get out.
Eames orders a ridiculous amount of food from room service and they eat it sprawled out in bed, still naked. Arthur's not sure when he last relaxed like this, no agenda, nowhere to be, and he says as much to Eames.
"You work too hard," Eames says, and twenty-four hours ago it would have felt like a reproach, but it's hard to get worked up with Eames's fingers trailing through his curling hair. Arthur still opens his mouth to protest--it's more habit than anything else--and Eames silences him by popping a piece of sausage into his mouth. "No, you do. Let me show you a good time, Arthur. When's your next job?"
"I don't have one lined up," Arthur admits.
"Then it's settled." Eames leans back against the headboard, pulling Arthur with him, and proceeds to feed him one of everything.
On Arthur's suggestion they ride the cable car up to Sugarloaf; he's been to Rio a half dozen times but never had the chance to play tourist. "Which is a shame, really," Eames says, leaning back against the railing next to Arthur, propped on his elbows. They're both wearing sunglasses, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow. "We should come back for Carnivale."
Arthur glances at him, thinking about Carnivale with Eames; even before last night it would have been intriguing--he's been out drinking with Eames before, and every time Arthur ends up somewhere unexpected, having the sort of adventures that only ever seem to happen to people in stories, and to Eames. "We should," he says, letting his smile sneak out, and Eames grins back just as they bump into the station at the top of the cable.
The view of Rio from Sugarloaf is breathtaking, the golden sand of Ipanema and Copacabana curling to the left, Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer to the right. Arthur nudges Eames. "Ever go up there?" he asks, nodding to the statue of Christ, arms outstretched.
"Once," Eames replies. "A few years back, before it was hit by lightning this last time. But I like this view better." He rests his chin on Arthur's shoulder, looking at the city spread below them, the mountains rolling off into the distance, disappearing into the mist. "Besides, he's only the fifth tallest Christ in the world."
"Oh really?" Arthur says, leaning back against him. "Where's the tallest?"
"Poland. Bloody awful thing, too, all blocky, with a big gilt crown. 'Jesus of the Cabbage Field,' they say."
Arthur turns his head just enough to glance sidelong at Eames, careful not to bump their sunglasses together. "No way."
"It's true," Eames says, straightfaced. "And built atop a pile of rubble to boot. I much prefer the enormous Buddhas on their lotus flowers, myself." Arthur's not sure if he believes him or not, but then, that's what Wikipedia's for.
They eat ice cream and take the cable car back to the city, wandering around the Centro. On a whim, Arthur buys them tickets to the bondinho and trails Eames through the Museu da Chácara do Céu, and in return Eames strolls through four separate cathedrals with him and lets Arthur indulge his inner architecture geek. They end the day in a samba club, Arthur nearly doubled over in laughter at Eames's antics on the dancefloor. "Have you ever read Calvin and Hobbes?" he asks over the music.
"Of course I have," Eames replies. "What sort of uncultured cretin do you take me for?"
"You dance just like Calvin did, in those strips where he pulled out the record player and put on sunglasses and danced around like a loon."
Eames grins, teeth flashing in the dark of the club, and flips his sunglasses down from his hair and onto his nose. "That's exactly what I'm going for."
"God, why didn't we do this years ago?" Arthur asks that night, loose-limbed and languid as Eames traces filthy words onto the sweaty skin of his back.
"Mmm," Eames hums. "To be honest, you've only recently started smiling in my presence."
"That's because you see me at work," Arthur points out, poking Eames's shoulder in exasperated amusement.
Eames makes another non-commital noise; it's enough to make Arthur pay attention to the answer that follows. "And you're not chasing after Cobb any longer. D'you know the first time I saw you really smile was on that plane, after we all awoke?"
"Not my best year," Arthur mutters.
Eames leans over and kisses him, gently, almost in apology. "But now it's over. And you're more amenable to being spoiled."
It's true; in the last twenty-four hours Arthur's had muscles relax that he hadn't even realized were tense, they'd been that way for so long. Right now he feels better than he's felt in ages. "I should've let you spoil me a long time ago."
"Probably," Eames agrees with a fond smile. "But here we are."
"Yeah," Arthur says, smiling back. "Here's not so bad."
* * *
Arthur wakes up to an empty bed six days later and blinks, confused; it's the first morning in a week that he's woken up without Eames curled around him. They're in Chicago, now, in one of Eames's apartments, a second floor walkup in the Ukrainian Village. Arthur has his own place in Chicago, a condo in Old Town, but he's only been there long enough to drop off his dry cleaning from Rio and pick up a new set of clothes.
He pulls on a pair of pajama pants and pads barefoot into the living room, running a hand through his tousled hair. (Eames apparently has a thing for Arthur with his hair in his eyes. It's something Arthur finds himself happy to indulge.) "Hey," he says through a jaw-cracking yawn. Eames is draped across the couch, television on, and he catches Arthur's wrist and pulls him down until Arthur's sprawling atop him.
"Good morning," Eames says, planting a sloppy kiss on Arthur's cheek. "Sleep well?"
Arthur nods, nuzzling into the crook of Eames's neck with his nose; he's allowed to cuddle, he hasn't had his coffee yet. And, really, Eames is kind of a giant, tattooed cuddle-monster, which Arthur never would have guessed. He's happily surprised to find that he doesn't mind, especially when he's flopped atop his warm bare chest, one of Eames's large hands carding gently down his spine.
It's insanely comfortable, which is why it takes Arthur some time to realize that Eames is watching--"Toonzai?" Arthur lifts his head to frown at the screen.
"You're not allowed to disparage Dragon Ball Z," Eames tells him sternly, although there's a smile tugging at one corner of his lips. "What we have is sacred."
Arthur shakes his head, letting it drop back onto Eames's shoulder. "Next you're going to tell me you have a sugared cereal addiction," he teases.
"I've had two bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch already," Eames boasts. "I was waiting for you to get up before I indulged in more."
Arthur lifts his head again, this time to look at Eames; he still hasn't quite learned when Eames is teasing and when he's being serious. "Really?"
"Really. Although I'd rather wait for the next commercial break, if it's all the same to you."
The look on Eames's face suggests that one, he's fairly serious, but two, he realizes how ridiculous he is. It's... well, fuck, it's pretty damn adorable. And kissable. So Arthur kisses him with a grin, licking the cinnamon sugar from his lips, then settles back down onto Eames's chest and watches cartoons for the first time in nearly two decades.
* * *
"All my hard work, undone," Eames sighs. He's leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed loosely over his chest, looking Arthur over from head to toe. And Arthur, Arthur just wants to drop his things inside the door and let Eames wrap him up in a warm hug.
Arthur's not quite sure when exactly he became a cuddleslut, but he doesn't really have the energy right now to worry about it.
"Franz is still an asshole," he gripes, although it comes out as more of a sigh; Eames has a warm hand on his shoulder and is steering him into the apartment. "I don't understand how he manages to be as good of an extractor as he is. At least Dom was charming enough, when he tried to be."
"Mmm," Eames hums, divesting Arthur of his bag, then his coat, before setting to work on the loose knot of his tie. "One of these days, someone will figure out how to be an extractor without being either an arsehole, batshit insane, or both. Until then, I suppose we'll have to tolerate near-perfection."
Arthur had a reply somewhere, really, but then Eames is kissing him softly, one hand cupped under his jaw, and he can feel the tension of two weeks' worth of an obnoxious job, a transatlantic flight and a dearth of fresh food slipping out of his shoulders already. "Hey," Arthur murmurs into the air between their lips when Eames pulls back, his fingers slipping into Arthur's hair to rub gently at his scalp. Arthur smiles at him, feeling unaccountably shy. "Missed you."
"Missed you," Eames replies with a smile of his own, fingers slowly working Arthur's hair free of the confines of his hair gel. "But you're back now. And in time for Doctor Who, even."
"Awesome," Arthur grins; it's the season premiere, and more importantly, it's the premiere of Twelve--Arthur was absolutely going to cut someone if he missed it. "How much time do we have?"
Eames checks his watch, keeping Arthur close. "Just under thirty minutes."
"Long enough," Arthur says, and kisses Eames deeply, pushing him back towards the bedroom. Eames laughs against his mouth, wrapping his arms around Arthur, and everything is right with the world.
Which is, of course, when his phone decides to ring. "Dammit," Arthur sighs, digging it out of his pocket. If he hadn't just finished a job he'd let it go, but while things wrapped up neatly, he can't ignore any calls just yet; it's still too soon to assume nothing's gone wrong. "Yeah?"
It's Ariadne, and while she wasn't working on this job, he feels responsible enough for her in general that he can't just blow her off. Eames drags him into the bedroom anyway, divesting him of his oxford and his trousers and pushing him face down on the bed in nothing more than his boxers. Arthur does his best to concentrate on what Ari's telling him, but it's hard to focus when Eames is digging strong fingers into the tight muscles of his back and neck.
"Hrrgh," Arthur lets slip at one point, as Eames unlocks a knot that's been bothering him for days.
"…What?" Ariadne replies, and he can see the way her forehead is almost wrinkling in consternation.
"Nothing, sorry, just--long day," Arthur apologizes. "Look, email me the information? I'll take a look at it tomorrow, when I'm not so badly jet-lagged."
"Can do," Ariadne says; he can hear the click of a keyboard in the background, which means she's probably emailing it to him already. He likes that about her. "Hey, one more thing before you go. I was thinking about asking Eames in on this job. Honestly, I think the three of us could get it done pretty easily. And I don't know about you, but I'm kind of tired of working with assholes."
"And yet you called me," Arthur jokes.
"Arthur, you're not an asshole," Ariadne tells him patiently. "And neither is Eames. You guys just demand competence. It's kind of nice, to be honest."
He shrugs, quietly pleased by the compliment. "I totally hear you on working with assholes, though. If you ever get asked on a job by a guy named Franz, don't take it. You'd kill him within the week."
"How'd you manage not to?" she asks.
"I kept telling myself that there was a big paycheck on the other end of that frustration," he replies honestly. And also Eames waiting for him, but he's not going to admit that to Ari. "Hey, have you called Eames yet?"
Clearly not, if the way Eames perks up is any indication. "Nope. Your name comes first alphabetically."
Arthur laughs. It's so very Ari, with her relentlessly practical mind. "I've gotta talk to him anyway," he tells her. "I'll pass on the job info, if you want, see what he thinks?"
"That works," Ariadne replies. "Tell him he has to say yes. I miss his stupid face."
"I'll tell him," Arthur says, craning his head to look at Eames's stupid face with a grin. Eames raises an eyebrow, but Arthur just shakes his head, wrapping up the phone call with the promise to call Ariadne tomorrow, after he's looked over the job.
"Ariadne misses your stupid face," Arthur says, rolling over underneath Eames's hands. The massage was definitely appreciated, but now he wants Eames's strong hands on his front, too.
"Does she now?" Eames murmurs, bending to kiss him.
"Mmhmm," Arthur hums against his lips.
"You'll have to tell me about it," Eames says, shifting to slot their hips together. "Later."
After Doctor Who, Arthur thinks idly--then freezes. "Um."
Eames lifts his head from where he'd been kissing down Arthur's jaw. "…Yes?"
And Arthur feels kind of like a jerk for interrupting this to ask, but Eames is just as big of a Whovian as he is. "You're recording Doctor Who, right?"
Eames blinks, then shakes his head. "I don't have a DVR here."
Arthur hesitates. "We could probably find it online," he hedges, but Eames is sliding his hands underneath Arthur and scooping him up.
"Did you have any other plans tonight?" Eames asks, turning towards the door with Arthur in his arms.
"Um. Doctor Who, sex, shower and sleeping. Maybe food. Not necessarily in that order," Arthur replies, still trying to absorb the fact that Eames has just picked him up and is carrying him into the living room. "You need a TV in the bedroom."
"Americans," Eames snorts, depositing Arthur on the couch and going to hunt up some blankets--which is an understatement, because apparently he's pulling out every blanket in the flat and making a nest on the couch for them. "Doctor Who, sex, shower, sleeping. Sounds like a fine evening to me."
Arthur snuggles in as Eames drops down to sit next to him, pulling the blankets close. "No arguments here."
"Question," Arthur asks a few minutes later, to cover how thrilled he is by the familiar thrum of the Doctor Who theme song.
"Answer," Eames replies, fingers tapping against Arthur's hip; they've spooned up on the couch, and Arthur's the happiest he's been since leaving for the job.
"Is this okay?" Arthur cranes his head to look at Eames. "I didn't mean to cockblock us."
"Arthur, I have all night to shag you," Eames replies. "As much as I've missed the sex, I've missed you more."
Arthur nods, lacing his fingers through Eames's. "Me too."
"And as delectable as your arse is, I'm not missing Twelve," Eames says, and Arthur can't help but agree with that, too.
Later, after Doctor Who ("Twelve is brilliant," Eames had declared, and Arthur couldn't help but agree) and sex and a shower, Arthur finds himself lying on the bed, frowning pensively at the ceiling. "Something wrong?" Eames asks from the bathroom door, rubbing a towel over his hair.
"Not exactly," Arthur says. "Just--" He rolls onto his side and props his head up with one arm, looking at Eames. "Do you want to work together?"
Eames finishes drying his hair and tosses the towel into the bathroom before coming over to the bed. "Yeah, why wouldn't I?"
Arthur shrugs. "I don't know." Which isn't the truth, exactly. He just isn't quite sure how to articulate his worry--that this easiness they've developed will be wrecked by the push-pull pigtail-tugging the two of them tend to fall into on a job, that they'll somehow ruin this by bringing work back into the equation. Or no, that's not it--Arthur's worried that he's going to wreck everything. But he's definitely not feeling brave enough to say that.
Eames slides into bed next to him, throwing an arm around Arthur's waist and resting his chin on Arthur's shoulder. "Are you worried about us, or are you worried about people finding out about us?"
And that's another thing to consider; once it becomes obvious that they're together, things get more dangerous. "I'm not sure. Both, I think."
Eames kisses his cheek gently. "Look at this as a good dry run," he says. "It's just us and Ari, you said. If it turns out we can't work together, or shouldn't, we'll know, and no one but her will be the wiser. And if there's anyone left in this business that I trust, it's her."
"True," Arthur says. He turns to look at Eames. "I don't want to fuck this up."
"We'll figure it out, Arthur," Eames promises.
Arthur nods, and lets the broad warmth of Eames's palm running down his back lull him into sleep.
* * *
"You look different," is the first thing Ariadne says when they clear security at Toronto Pearson, going up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. "Good different," she amends once she's rocking back on her heels.
Arthur's running a hand through his hair before he consciously thinks about it; it's only got a little product in it, just enough to hold it back from his face, courtesy of Eames's newfound Thing. "Um. Thanks?" He was honestly expecting her to say something about the fact that they've shown up together, which means his guard's down about his hair.
"Good different," she says again, before turning to Eames. "And hello to you."
"And my stupid face?" Eames asks, unsmiling. Arthur tilts his head, not sure if Eames is being serious or not; he'd seemed amused when Arthur'd gotten Ari's phone call, but right now his poker face is flawless.
Ariadne doesn't blink, though. "And your stupid face," she says, socking him in the shoulder. "Come here and hug me, jerk."
Eames grins, then, wrapping her up in a hug, and Arthur relaxes. "Lovely to see you as always," Eames says, ducking to press a kiss to Ariadne's cheek.
"Damn skippy," she replies.
Ariadne keeps up a constant flow of conversation on the way to the car, and Arthur finds himself slowly relaxing. They chatter idly about things that aren't work; Arthur talks about Rio and when Ariadne says she'd like to go there, he finds himself saying "it's only the fifth tallest Jesus in the world," much to Eames's quiet amusement. Ariadne tells them about her trip to Dubai, and how much she was surprised to find she liked the Burj Khalifa. Eames describes his latest painting, a forgery of Andrews's The Thames at Low Tide he'd been working on in Chicago that Arthur secretly hopes he'll keep when he's done with it.
Eames bumps his shoulder as Ariadne pays for parking, giving him a quick wink. Arthur finds himself smiling back, a little self-conscious, grinning down at the dirty concrete as Ariadne swears and pumps money into the self-pay kiosk.
* * *
He and Eames get into a fight the next morning.
There is a part of Arthur that is bleakly unsurprised, even as the rest of him is frowning at Eames with all his might. "His wife's the absolute last person to use," Arthur says. "I mean, for starters, she's his wife."
"Oh, Arthur," Eames says in his infuriating know-it-all professor tone of voice. "Such a romantic. But you've made my point exactly--she's his wife, and yet he doesn't want her to know he's being militarized, nor does he think she needs to be. Clearly there are already some trust issues, hm?"
And the worst part is, he's right. Their client, Shane Dunkirk, is a computer programmer of some sort who's hired them to militarize his subconscious, but he's been very clear that he doesn't want his wife or his current employer to know that it's being done, or the job's off. Arthur hasn't yet figured out whether Dunkirk's got good reason to be paranoid about either of them, or if he just likes being a sneaky bastard.
Eames has just announced that he intends to forge the wife and use her as the antigen in the militarization; in short, she'll be the idea that they use to close Dunkirk's mind down, to train it to protect itself from invasion by outside forces. If Eames is right, she'll be a solid guardian, but if he's wrong, they run the risk of poisoning the Dunkirks' marriage. The thought doesn't sit right with Arthur. "Maybe he's just trying to protect her," he argues.
Eames's eyebrows go up. "That's awfully paternalistic of him if he is," he replies mildly, "stripping her of her agency like that. Again, not really a sign that this is all that healthy of a relationship."
"And you're running the risk of making it worse," Arthur points out. "He's just as untrusting of his boss--why not use him?"
"Because we want it to stick," Eames says patiently. "He's only worked for this company for what, a year, eighteen months?"
"Sixteen months," Arthur shoots back without glancing down at his notes. And two weeks, three days, but he is so not going to win this argument with specificity.
"Right. Sixteen months. Hardly enough time to form a lifelong attachment, and I doubt it's going to happen, given his paranoia. Honestly, my money is on him jumping ship by year's end, especially once he's militarized. At that point, this job becomes an inconvenience at best, a horror story to tell over a few pints with his future colleagues at worst. Even if it's a horrid place to work, the distrust he has of his boss will be subsumed by a generalized ill will towards the job itself."
Eames leans back in his chair. "His wife, on the other hand, is someone he's decided to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for good or for ill, till death do they part. And while he's a modern man in a modern world, marriage still generates more of a long-term subconscious commitment, even if it only lasts for a short period of time--Dunkirk may have dozens of jobs by the time he dies, but even at his most philandering he's unlikely to marry more than what, three or four times? He clearly has something invested in the idea, since he's married this..." He looks down at his notes.
"Linda," Arthur says flatly.
"Right, Linda. And they've been married three years already, dated for two or three before that. So he's invested in her, in a way that he's not going to be invested in his job or his boss, ever. Therefore she's the most logical choice."
The worst part, Arthur thinks, is that Eames looks entirely too smug. It's infuriatingly sexy.
"But Arthur's got a point," Ariadne interjects, saving him from having to say goddamn you and your stupid sexy face. "What if we destroy his marriage? Like you said, he's got a lot invested in it."
Eames shakes his head. "Honestly, if it's shaky enough for us to do real damage, I doubt it would have survived even without our interference. We're not going to invent any issues that aren't there already. We may magnify them, but this isn't inception. This isn't going to convince him of anything he isn't already thinking about Mrs. Dunkirk."
"I hope you're right," Arthur says.
Eames shrugs. "I really don't think it's going to be a disaster, Arthur."
Ariadne steers the conversation away to architecture; she's planning to make a trip out to the client's hometown of Guelph for research at the end of the week. Arthur frowns down at his notebook and tries not to think goddamn you and your stupid sexy face at Eames, but he's not really all that successful. By the end of their meeting he's almost relieved to hear Eames announce his intentions to follow the wife for the rest of the day. He's not quite sure why he's angry at Eames, but he is.
Ariadne ducks into the bathroom when they wrap up, muttering something about too much coffee. Eames leans against his desk as Arthur starts to sort out piles of research into immediate and longer-term concerns. He stays there for a minute, maybe waiting for Arthur to speak; when he doesn't, Eames tilts his head. "I'll see you tonight?"
It's more tentative than Arthur would have expected. He sighs, then nods. "Yeah. I'll see you then."
Eames quirks a small smile at him, and Arthur feels like a bit of a jerk. He's about to lean in and kiss Eames when Ariadne comes out of the bathroom. Eames doesn't move away, but somehow his entire demeanor changes. "I agree with Ariadne," he announces, looking entirely too self-satisfied. "It's a good different."
"Jerk," Arthur mutters, but he hasn't missed the teasing twinkle in Eames's eye. He shakes his head and deliberately doesn't reach up to smooth his hair back, trying and failing to hide an exasperated smile as Eames pushes away from his desk and heads out to Queen's Quay to scope out the Dunkirks.
Arthur and Ariadne have a productive afternoon; they go under so that Ari can show him her preliminary ideas, and Arthur makes a fair bit of headway on Dunkirk's financial records. He doesn't realize that the sun has set and he's practically sitting in the dark, lit only by the light of his computer screen, until Ariadne comes over to sit atop his desk in the same place Eames had been just hours before.
"This is where you say it's quitting time, isn't it?" Arthur asks ruefully, rubbing at his eyes.
"Nope," she replies. "This is where you say 'Ari, I'm taking you to dinner.'"
"My mistake," Arthur says with a laugh. "Ari, I'm taking you to dinner."
"Good," she says, hopping down. "I know just the place."
They end up in a Thai restaurant in Greektown, and Ariadne bullies him into ordering three separate entrees to split between them, as well as an order of spring rolls, and beer. They're well into their food when Ariadne sets down her beer and, nonchalant as can be, says "So, how long have you two been together?"
Arthur chokes on his larb, then gives her a glare. Ariadne looks as cheekily innocent as Eames had when he'd said This, Ariadne, is a kick all those many months ago. Arthur takes a sip of his beer to give himself a moment to pull his dignity back together. "Seven weeks," he admits. "Three of which I was on a job."
Ariadne blinks. "What, this time?"
Arthur feels even more thrown. "What do you mean? There's only been this time."
She's flat-out gaping at him now, although she covers it behind a large mouthful of pad see-ew. Arthur waits her out, twirling the noodles on his plate idly with his fork. "So wait," she says finally. "You weren't--before? Not even on the Fischer job?"
He shakes his head. "Nope."
"Huh." Ariadne flops back in her booth, eyeing him speculatively as she takes a long pull of her beer. "Seven weeks? Really?"
"We've known each other for a long time," Arthur admits. "Years. I knew Eames before I knew Dom and Mal, actually."
"Had you ever slept together, even?" she asks.
He shakes his head. "I thought we might, once or twice, but things kept getting in the way."
"But now you are."
"Now we are." He pauses for a minute, glancing at Ariadne; it has never occurred to him that perhaps the fact that everyone's already assumed that he and Eames were sleeping together is their best camouflage. "Did we do anything different today to make you bring it up, or have you just been waiting for the chance to get one of us alone to ask?"
She shrugs. "The whole thing with Eames earlier definitely had undertones of 'if Dunkirk doesn't trust his wife, how can I be sure you trust me,' and I thought maybe you'd want to talk about it. But I totally thought you were sleeping together during the Fischer job, so."
Arthur toys with his napkin ring, not looking up at Ariadne. "It's stupid, I know. But I just can't help but think about all of the things I don't know about him yet."
"Do you think he's hiding things from you?" she asks.
"No." His response is immediate. He thinks of Eames sprawled across the couch watching cartoons and Doctor Who and the Daily Show, feeding him cake and Cinnamon Toast Crunch, racing him to the coffeeshop in the mornings and mussing up his hair at night. "But this is Eames. I don't think he always knows what he hides from himself." It's this fear that had made Arthur keep himself apart, that had kept him from falling into bed with Eames until they were both drunk and he had nothing to lose.
Ariadne shrugs. "That may be. But he's pretty consistent, when you think about it. I mean, I haven't known him for years and years like you have, so I might be wrong. But as much as he can be facetious about things, he strikes me as very serious when he wants to be."
"No, that's true," Arthur allows. He shrugs. "This is the first job we've worked together since..." He waves a hand to indicate whatever-it-is that he and Eames are doing; they haven't really come up with a name for it yet. "I guess I just don't know what to expect." He certainly hadn't expected to get upset about Eames deciding to forge the client's wife.
"Just take it as it comes," Ariadne says. "It's not like we're doing anything crazy here, and it's just the three of us."
It strikes Arthur, then, that everyone in his life is being more rational and mature than he is. It's actually kind of nice, after two years of playing the grown up in the face of Cobb's increasingly erratic and desperate brilliance. "You're right," he says, giving her a crooked half-smile. "At least it's a straightforward job."
He comes home from dinner to find Eames crashed out on top of their bed, smelling faintly of whiskey and fully dressed except for his shoes; he hasn't even bothered to pull the covers back, and Arthur wonders if he just fell over and passed out. Arthur smiles, drapes his jacket over the back of the chair and drops his cufflinks onto the dresser before toeing out of his shoes and crawling onto the mattress next to him. "I think you forgot something," he murmurs, nudging at Eames until he rolls over onto his back so that Arthur can get to the buttons of his shirt.
"Mmm?" Eames hasn't even opened his eyes. "S'that?"
"You're supposed to take your clothes off before you get into bed. Of course, you still haven't accomplished that yet, so technically speaking this is what, a speedbump on your path to bed?"
"Fell 'sleep," Eames mumbles, letting Arthur pull his arms free of his shirt.
"I gathered that," Arthur says oh-so-dryly, but he's smiling; Eames is kind of stupidly adorkable right now, with his mussed hair and the pillow lines creasing his face, bonelessly allowing Arthur to undress him. He obediently lifts his hips as Arthur strips his pants off, pulling them inside out in the process, but whatever. Once he has Eames down to his boxers, discarded clothing kicked to the floor, Arthur crawls up him and rests on his chest, elbows balancing on either side of Eames's broad shoulders. "Mister Eames," he calls softly, leaning down to brush a kiss across a stubbled cheek.
Eames turns towards the touch almost involuntarily, eyelids flickering but failing to open. "Hmm?"
Arthur takes pity on him and flips the comforter back on the other side of the bed. "If you roll over, I'll tuck you in."
"So good t'me," Eames replies, rolling out from under him when Arthur nudges him along, landing on the cool sheets with a contented sigh. Arthur grins and covers him with the blankets, pressing a kiss to his forehead before getting up to brush his teeth and undress for bed.
When he gets back, Eames is snoring softly, curled up on his side with his hands tucked underneath his chin like a little kid. Arthur sits on the edge of the bed and watches him for a moment, fingers absently brushing Eames's hair back from his eyes. Eames doesn't stir. "You have me at something of a disadvantage," Arthur says quietly; it's something that occurred to him on the subway, after dinner. He thinks about continuing, but Eames shifts slightly, letting out a sigh, and, well, there's not much point when Eames is dead to the world.
Eames stirs as he slides beneath the covers, reaching out to drape a sleep-heavy arm around Arthur's waist and pull him close. Arthur leans back against his warm chest, Eames's breath soft on the back of his neck as he presses an uncoordinated kiss there. He's asleep within minutes.
* * *
The job is a disaster.
It's not the planning; the rest of the planning goes well, once Arthur cedes using Dunkirk's wife to Eames. Ariadne continues to be breathtakingly brilliant, and privately, Arthur thinks they may just be the best team in dreamshare, sans extractor. He doesn't like the client, but that's nothing new; the business is still illegal enough that the people who trade in dreamshare tend to be rich, shady, or (usually) both. Arthur learned long ago that he doesn't have to like the clients in order to cash their checks. And their meetings with Dunkirk had all been fine, with nothing out of the ordinary.
So there's nothing, really, to clue him into the fact that something is terribly wrong when he opens his eyes in the dream for the first time--or, rather, almost nothing. "Where's Dunkirk?"
"He should be here," Ariadne says, bewildered. "This isn't a maze, not today's level. There's nowhere he could have wandered off."
"Maybe his cannula malfunctioned," Eames says, but there's a tension there that's mirrored in Arthur's posture, a frown creasing his brow that is just as loud to Arthur as the warning bells going off in the back of his mind.
Arthur shakes his head. "It was good," he insists; he'd placed it himself. "And the PASIV would've--"
He stops dead as something cold and sharp presses against his neck--not here, but in the real world, above. "Knife," he says pointedly, left hand coming up involuntarily to his throat. His right hand's already drawing his gun.
"They'll have all three of us, then," Eames says, eyes flint grey.
"If they're right handed, they'll go from our right to left, for leverage," Arthur says, making a slicing motion with his gun to illustrate what he means. He looks at Ariadne. "When Eames wakes you up, roll left."
"I will," she says.
He looks at Eames and nods, pressing his gun to his own temple; they may have more time in the dreamshare, but it takes only seconds to slit a throat. Eames's eyes are fixed on him as he pulls the trigger, and then Arthur's lashing out, twisting away from the knife at his neck as he kicks his assailant away.
The room erupts in chaos; Eames and Ariadne come up just a second after he does, taking advantage of the distraction Arthur provides to escape their own attackers. After that, Arthur's too busy trying to dodge the knife curving towards him to keep track of them.
Arthur's good, but he can't get leverage; his attacker's got him pinned down on the couch he'd stretched out on for the job, and he's got nowhere to roll. He tries anyway, and it's a minor success, the knife sliding hot and sharp off of his ribs rather than between them, but he's finally got room enough to get his arm free. Of course, that's when Eames appears, dragging the man off of him and slamming him into the wall with a ferocious crack, then punching him again for good measure even though the man already appears to be unconscious. Eames looks about as furious as Arthur feels.
"Ari?" Arthur asks, breathless; the pain is kicking in, flaring up his side like wildfire.
"I'm fine," she says; he lifts his head to see her standing over Dunkirk's prone body, taser in hand, keeping a weather eye on both him and Eames's unconscious attacker.
"We need to go," Eames says. "Are you alright?"
Arthur nods, taking the hand Eames offers him. He can't help but grimace as he sits up, pain burning bright. "I don't think it's that deep." He stops Eames as he goes to kneel in front of him with a hand on his arm. "Pack us up," Arthur says gently. "I'm okay."
Eames nods, still looking faintly murderous, but he moves to the PASIV and starts to wind up the tubing with tight, economical movements.
"What do we do with these guys?" Ariadne asks.
"There's duct tape in my bag," Eames replies shortly. "Don't worry about their circulation. Neuropathy just means they won't be able to aim as well next time they try to kill us."
If Ariadne weren't there, Arthur thinks, they'd probably already be dead. This is the better solution in the short-term, however; bodies would only lead to more questions. He waves Ariadne over as she moves to hogtie the guy Eames knocked out, the one who'd sliced him. "I need a towel or a pillowcase," he tells her. "And the tape, once you're done with it."
It's Eames who kneels in front of him with a pillowcase, however; the PASIV is packed, and he's got Ariadne wiping away their fingerprints. "Let me see," Eames says, pulling Arthur's hand away from his side.
"How bad?" Arthur asks.
"You'll live," Eames replies, pressing the folded pillowcase over the wound. "I'll stitch you up when we get the chance." His fingers are strong, sure as he tapes the fabric down, wrapping it around Arthur's ribs. It's not perfect, but it'll keep Arthur from dripping blood on anything, and he can cover his ruined shirt well enough if he keeps his jacket buttoned.
"Hey," Arthur says, catching Eames's jaw with the tips of his fingers--the clean fingers, not the bloody ones. "I'm okay."
Eames looks at him, briefly, then gives him a short nod and pushes to his feet.
They get out of Dunkirk's condo and onto the road without further incident, which is good; Arthur had been trying to figure out what they'd do if Dunkirk had someone outside, and none of the scenarios had ended well in his head. Eames drives, which is weird--Arthur's usually the one doing the driving, especially on the right side of the road. But this way Arthur can sit in the back and keep his eye out for anyone following them, and do his best to ignore the way Eames's eyes keep flickering to him in the rearview.
"Niagara, you think?" Eames asks conversationally as they leave Toronto behind, even though that's always been the plan; there are plenty of tourists to disappear into, and they can get across the border there, or head to Buffalo, or--if things go really poorly--take advantage of one of the cargo ships in the area.
Arthur nods, scanning the highway behind them. "Niagara." He probably won't soak through his makeshift dressing by then. Probably.
They get a suite, several stories up with floor-to-ceiling windows that show a stunning view of the waterfalls. It feels strangely exposed yet cloistered all at the same time. "Bathroom with you," Eames commands, hand on the small of Arthur's back giving him the barest of pushes. "I'll be there in a minute."
Arthur goes, because he's rapidly losing the ability to make decisions on his own at this point; he isn't in danger of bleeding out, really, but he's definitely exhausted from the pain and from having to keep an eye on the road for the last two hours. He's standing shirtless in the bathroom, trying to decide whether to sit on the closed toilet or the side of the tub when Eames comes in behind him, kit in hand.
"Sit," Eames says, his voice gentler as he guides Arthur to sit on the toilet and presses a Vicodin into his palm, then washes his hands.
Arthur sits sideways, bloody side out, tipping his head back against the cool tile of the wall and dry-swallowing the pill. He feels jittery and sleepy at the same time, the adrenaline only just washing out of his system. "I need to talk to Ariadne," he says finally, wincing as Eames starts to peel back the duct tape. "To figure out who that was, what they were after."
Eames shakes his head, short and sharp, not looking up at him. "Not now, Arthur," he hums, easing the sticky pillowcase off of Arthur's side. It's got the Dunkirks' initials monogrammed on it, Arthur notes as Eames drops it into a plastic garbage bag. "She's a bit shaken up."
She's not the only one, Arthur thinks, looking at Eames. Arthur lifts his arm to get it out of Eames's way, resting his hand on Eames's shoulder. He considers caressing Eames's cheek, running his fingers through the short hairs at the back of his neck, but he can't quite read the look on his face--he's frowning at Arthur's side, poking the edges of the wound to see how deep it is.
"What name did you check us in under?" Arthur asks. "I have a few--"
"You're off the clock," Eames tells him. "It's handled. Don't worry about it. I have tricks of my own, you know."
"I'm still going to need to do some checking, make sure we got away clean," Arthur argues tiredly, wincing as Eames injects his wound with lidocaine.
Eames opens his mouth, then stops himself, taking a deep breath and finishing what he's doing before giving Arthur a thin, wry smile. "I know it's not easy for you to believe, but I am capable of covering my tracks," he says.
"I can always find you," Arthur tells him.
Eames's eyes go soft. "Because I always let you."
Arthur isn't quite sure what to do with that, so he gives into his earlier urge, running the pad of his thumb over the soft spot behind Eames's ear, then closes his eyes and tips his head back against the wall again as Eames starts to clean his wound.
It's a few minutes later, once Eames has started to suture, that Arthur speaks again. "You have me at something of a disadvantage," he murmurs, eyes still closed.
He can feel Eames's shoulder tense up beneath his hand, but his voice is mild when he speaks. "Mmm, how's that?"
Arthur shrugs one shoulder. "I just--I've spent a long time being who other people need. Cobb, the Army, sometimes I think that's what I'm doing with Ariadne, too. And you just--all along, you're just--you. I've never quite known who to be for you. And now we're doing this, and I don't quite know what to do. Because you're so settled in yourself, and I feel like I'm only just now figuring out who I am, on my own."
Eames's hands haven't stopped moving, the hook-pull-loop-loop-tug sensation still steady against Arthur's numbed skin. "Is that something you want?" he asks, quiet and precise. "To be alone?"
"No," Arthur says, startled. He opens his eyes then; Eames doesn't look at him, just continues to suture. Arthur suddenly has the feeling he's on very shaky ground of his own making. "Hey," he says softly, hand coming to caress Eames's cheek. "I'm just saying that sometimes I have no idea what I'm doing, is all. I'm not trying to end this."
Eames nods, looping thread around his forceps and pulling the knot tight one last time before finally looking up at Arthur. "Good," he says. "Because I don't want to."
Arthur gives him a crooked, relieved smile. "Okay."
Eames snips the threads short, then rocks back on his heels. "What do you think?"
"It looks like a smiley face," Arthur says, raising his arm to inspect his work. "Except, y'know, more like a frown from here."
"We'll have to fix that," Eames says, peeling off one rubber glove so that he can dig into his pocket for a pen. The ballpoint is ticklish against Arthur's skin, above where it's been numbed by the lidocaine, but he does his best to hold still as the first of two googley eyes appears at its end in blue-black ink.
"You're not at a disadvantage, you know," Eames murmurs around the pen cap in his teeth, not looking up at Arthur. "I'm just as terrified as you are."
Arthur thinks about the look on Eames's face in the dream when they'd realized everything was quite literally teetering on a knife-edge, the tentative way he'd asked whether or not he'd be seeing Arthur later when they'd had their first job-related fight. He thinks about Eames's eyes flickering to look at him in the rearview the entire way from Toronto to Niagara. He thinks about lying curled up on the big red couch in Eames's airy apartment in the Ukrainian Village watching Doctor Who, and about the way he always wakes up with Eames's arm wrapped over his chest protectively, like Arthur might disappear at a moment's notice.
"Can I have the front bedroom in Chicago for my office?" he asks.
Eames blinks up at him, pen cap dropping forgotten from his lips. "What?"
"The front bedroom," Arthur says patiently. "In your Chicago apartment. It gets the most light, and since you've already got your painting stuff set up in the dining room--"
"Already taking advantage of my emotional vulnerability?" Eames cuts him off, one eyebrow raised, but it's not a no. Arthur knows him better than that.
"I was just thinking that The Thames at Low Tide would look good over my desk," Arthur says with a calculated nonchalance that's absolutely ruined by Eames leaning up and kissing him breathless.
"You're a bloody wanker," Eames grumbles fondly against his lips once he lets him up for air. "That was supposed to be a surprise."
"You've been painting it right in front of me," Arthur points out. "I'm not an idiot."
"No," Eames says, leaning back on his heels to grin up at Arthur. "You're not at all."