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First Crack

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It’s a little too cold for comfort, just on the edge of chilly, so Eames leaves his suit jacket on and curls his fingers around the cardboard cup he’s handed over the bar. It’s a small but welcome comfort, the faint warmth that bleeds through the paper more and more as the seconds pass.

He takes the table by the window, which won’t help with the slight shivers he’s fighting back, but here Eames has a clear view of the pavement outside. It’s early yet, Saturday morning; not much to see barring the occasional jogger, dog-walker, cyclist. A woman hurries past with a small toddler clutched against her chest, trying to keep him contained and warm and safe even as he struggles to look around, wonderfully oblivious to both the autumnal chill and her maternal fussing.

Eames spots Arthur a long way coming (and isn’t that always true of Eames when it comes to Arthur?) stepping briskly up the pavement in a way that suggests he’s wearing a suit, tie, trench coat, maybe spats and cufflinks. Arthur is, in fact, wearing dark-wash jeans and a red checked shirt under a soft-looking caramel brown leather jacket. His hair matches his demeanour anyway, slick and shiny and neat and dark. His gaze is busy, attentive, flicking around the mostly-deserted street.

It pleases Eames that Arthur doesn’t glance into the coffee shop before he opens the door and enters. This way Eames can enjoy watching Arthur a little longer from a closer perspective, all the familiar mannerisms in this new guise. He undertakes a serious perusal of the shop’s offerings, small flicker of the jaw as he juts it out unconsciously, tilts his head back to read. Squints ever so slightly, because Arthur is nearsighted but hates the fuss of contacts and the clutter of glasses, and sees like an eagle in the dreamscape anyway.

When it’s his turn at the counter, Arthur gives the barista a gentle slight quirk of a smile, a formality more than an actual emotion, but Eames sees how the barista warms to him helplessly in response. Arthur can’t know it from his vantage point, how different he is in the long chain of Saturday morning coffee-drinkers, how he stands out from the tired mothers and the grumpy middle-aged men and the bleary hungover students. But Arthur looks fresh, bright, like he’s popped straight out of the factory-cut packaging. The very lines of his faint polite dimples look crisp, even, neat.

He’s only just paid when he finally takes a glance around the shop, and his gaze freezes on Eames with a startled-quick blink. Arthur’s head tilts ever so slightly, and there’s the briefest questioning flicker between his brows – am I meant to know you? – which Eames answers with a smile over the raised rim of his cardboard cup.

So Arthur hooks his thumbs in his jeans pockets – tiny wonderful tell of his uncertainty, that – and comes over to Eames’ table. Arthur can act, Eames knows, but he’s shit at improvising. It’s clear he’s at sea right now, looking for his motivation in the scene they’re meant to be playing. “Fancy meeting you here,” Eames opens, settling back in his seat and smiling at Arthur.

Arthur clears his throat and returns Eames’ smile, but his version is tight and brief and utterly insincere. “Should I,” he says, and indicates the chair opposite Eames.

“If you like,” Eames says, “please do.” He pushes the chair out in welcome, using his foot, making the legs scrape noisily against the tile floor.

“I’ll just,” says Arthur, “my latte is up.”

When he comes back, Arthur sits stiffly and seems to forget about his coffee almost the moment he sets it down on the table between them. He’s waiting for Eames to get to it, whatever it is, and he doesn’t want to tip his hand in the meantime. When they’re working a job together, Arthur is confident enough in Eames’ loyalty; but when they’re not, Arthur doesn’t trust Eames far as he can throw him.

“So,” he says, edgy now. “So?”

Eames lets himself enjoy the tension growing in Arthur’s shoulders for a moment longer before he reminds himself that winding Arthur up is actually counter to his mission, here. “You’re working,” he says, so Arthur knows that Eames has done his research.

Arthur doesn’t nod, but his blink is an affirmation. It’s clear he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for Eames to say there’s this job in Athens or how do you fancy Australia in November or what would it take to get you to ditch on this gig.

Eames settles forward a little and plants his forearms on the table, elbows propping him up. “Just wondering if you have plans for the weekend?” he says.

Arthur pulls a considering expression, which is flattering even if he’s still got it a bit wrong. That he’d even think about moonlighting with Eames while working another job is sort of – endearing is the wrong word, doesn’t fit inside the serious angles of Arthur’s thoughtful face – but Eames wishes for a moment, madly, that he actually had a job for Arthur. He should have made something up, some bare excuse to get him around this moment where Arthur’s expecting to be made an offer and Eames is – well.

Making a different kind of offer.

“I’m a bit at loose ends, myself,” Eames says. “Thought I’d see if you fancied some coffee?”

Arthur glances down at the two cups on the table between them, a little pointedly.

“Next round’s on me,” Eames adds.

“Much as I,” Arthur says, or starts to say, working towards a polite but certain rejection – but Eames is too quick, captures Arthur’s fingers as they make to wrap round his latte. It’s a strange feeling, Arthur’s fingers in Eames’ grasp, Arthur’s hands surprisingly warm inside Eames’ cool fist. Arthur’s dark eyes flick up and lock with Eames’ gaze, going wide.

“Come on,” Eames says, smooth and calm and easy, because he’s a master of improvisation, of hiding the way his heart has suddenly started jackhammering in his chest. Arthur’s fingers, callused and warm and unexpectedly lax in Eames’ grip. “It’s Saturday morning. Let me caffeinate you, darling.”

Arthur can’t miss his meaning, now, even Arthur with his passion for clarity, for the explicit statement of intent. There’s an agonizing pause while he averts his eyes, visibly works through the proposition with his expression guarded. The cafe’s canned music seems to grow impossibly louder; Eames thinks about pulling his hand away and decides against it.

“You know,” Arthur says, finally, “I always figured we’d be drunk.” He turns his hand in Eames’ grasp until they’re palm to palm, Arthur’s warm broad hand wrapping round Eames’ now. He squeezes gently and looks at Eames, unafraid now that he’s worked it out inside his head. “This is better, actually.”

“Well,” says Eames, “I know you’re fond of a nice French roast.”

“And yet,” Arthur says, “your coffee’s in a to-go cup.”

“Ah,” Eames says, grinning now, “it never hurts to dream a little, hmm?”

Arthur lets Eames’ hand go, picks up his own cup, and stands. Gives Eames a little impatient look.

“Oh,” says Eames, and tries to seem collected instead of startled as he scrambles to his feet, grabs his own cup.

They melt into the growing foot traffic, weaving round young families, busy older couples, single girls with pugs. Arthur’s elbow touches Eames’, sometimes, when he lifts his cup to his lips.

They stop at the doorway to the apartment complex where Arthur’s been staying. Arthur digs for his keys.

The sun is properly up now. Eames feels warm, awake, alive, but he shivers anyway as Arthur pushes the door open and holds it, waves Eames in.