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Affection too Shy to Convey

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Arthur stares at the proffered chain in Eames' hand for a long moment.

Eames laughs. "Are you alright, darling?" he asks.

Arthur blinks. "What is this, Eames?" he says, voice soft, disbelieving.

Eames grins at him, crooked teeth and all. "My dog tags, from back when I was in Her Majesty's service. Isn't it obvious?" he replies, voice teasing.

Arthur looks up from the dog tags to glare at Eames. "I know what they are," he says. "Why are you giving them to me?"

Eames doesn't say anything, just looks at Arthur, although his lips twitch minutely.

Arthur blinks again, looks to the dog tags and back at Eames. "It's not like-" Arthur starts, "This isn't- We're not in a…a relationship, Eames."

Eames arches an eyebrow, and even though he doesn't say a thing, Arthur can hear the implied is that right, pet? loud and clear.

"This isn't a relationship," Arthur says, though he doesn't sound very sure himself. "We're just…sleeping together. You just let me stay here occasionally because it's convenient. And. And I have my own study in your house, and I haven't been staying anywhere else in five months now, and we write grocery lists together, and I do your fucking laundry, and Jesus Christ, Eames, you're giving me your dog tags. Eames, are we in a relationship?"

Eames takes Arthur's hand, presses his dog tags into Arthur's palm, and brushes a light kiss to the corner of Arthur's lips.

"That took you long enough," Eames says with a grin. And then, "I have to be in the airport in twenty minutes, love. Please leave the freaking out until I come back home from Brussels?"

Arthur blinks at Eames. "We're in a relationship."

Eames smiles at him. "It would appear so."

Arthur isn't exactly sure how long this relationship between them has been going on, given that he wasn't even aware that they'd started a relationship together. And now Eames is giving him his dog tags and at what point of a relationship does your significant other give you his dog tags and what does that even mean and-

"I don't have dog tags," Arthur blurts out, unthinkingly. "What do I give you?"

Eames' smile grows, for reasons Arthur cannot even begin to comprehend, but he doesn't say anything except, "I'll see you, love."

And then he's gone. To the fucking airport. To go to fucking Brussels. Because turning down a job over the phone was just "bad form, love".

While Arthur is stuck here, trying to work out how they'd gotten from a few quickies in between jobs to living together and in a relationship.

He blinks at the door for a few more seconds and then moves to his study (Arthur's study, in Eames' house that he is apparently living in, what the hell) to make a flowchart.

--

Somewhere in between his third cup of coffee and detailing his fifth draft of the flowchart of his relationship with Eames, he calls Ariadne.

"Jesus, Arthur, it's 4 a.m. in Paris," Ariadne groans in lieu of a greeting. "You'd better be getting shot at."

Arthur smiles in spite of himself. "I'm not, sorry to disappoint."

"Then why are you calling at four in the morning?" Ariadne asks around a yawn.

"Ari," Arthur says, "when did Eames and I start a relationship?"

"What?" Ariadne asks. "Did you forget your anniversary or something? How'd I know? Ask Eames."

"Okay," Arthur sighs. "Let me rephrase: in your personal opinion as our friend, when do you think we first started our relationship?"

Ariadne yawns again. "I don't know," she slurs, "probably 2 years ago, around that job after the Fischer job."

"The Tanner job?" Arthur exclaims, shocked. "We weren't even fucking then."

"Really?" Ariadne sounds disbelieving. "You two were so touchy-feely on that job. And you smiled at him a lot. More than you did at me, even."

Arthur blinks. "We. I. What?"

"Alright, then," Ariadne says. "Uh, the Chang job eight months ago? I saw your name on the title of Eames' house in LA."

"My name is on what?" Arthur, well he doesn't really shriek it, but it comes close. "It can't be. Eames and I only slept together twice before the Chang job."

Ariadne hums. "Sometimes you just know, though."

"Know what?" Arthur pretty much yells, completely distraught.

"Know that it's time to let me go back to sleep," Ariadne says with another yawn. "Ask me again when I'm awake. G'night, Arthur." She hangs up on him.

Arthur stares at his phone in horror. What has he been missing all these time?

--

"Shit," Arthur curses, marker pen stilling over the whiteboard where he's trying to pen down that time in Sydney when Eames took him out for dinner and gave him cufflinks. "Shit. We are in a relationship."

--

Dom blinks at Arthur. "Sorry, what?"

"Eames gave me his dog tags," Arthur repeats. "I don't have dog tags, what do I give him?"

"Why are you asking me?" Dom asks him, and yes, that is a great question.

Arthur shrugs. "You had Mal. You must know something about being in a relationship. What did you give her to cement your relationship?"

Dom stares blankly at him.

Arthur sighs. "What was your most precious gift to Mal?"

"I'd say Inception, since it was the most brilliant gift," Dom says, "but it did backfire and get Mal killed, and turned me into a fugitive. Uh, I bought her knives? Lots of knives? Oh, one of them has her name engraved on it!"

Arthur bangs his head on the table before him.

Why is he still friends with Dom?

"Whatever you decide to give him," Dom starts, and Arthur looks up, "make sure it means as much to you as it would mean to him."

Arthur is still processing that (surprisingly insightful) information, when Dom adds on, "Like for our first wedding anniversary, I gave Mal the fishing rod my dad gave me for my eighth birthday."

Arthur stares at him, mouth agape, and tells himself that head-desking where the children can see him is not setting a good example. "How did you ever get Mal to look at you?"

Dom doesn't even bat an eyelash. "Tequila, dark lights and a piñata."

Arthur head-desks.

--

Arthur ponders over his choices.

He could put Eames' name in the title of his New York apartment, but he doesn't want Eames to think that he's just doing that because Eames did it first. He could buy them a house of their own, but he doesn't want Eames to think that he doesn't like it here in Eames' house. He could suggest a lavish vacation, but they just spent two weeks in Indonesia together on what Arthur had then thought was a recon job, but now understands that the job was just an excuse for Eames to make him agree to go to Indonesia in the first place. He could-

He doesn't really know what else he can do, to be honest.

"Fuck," Arthur groans. "Why the hell did I not just enlist in the army?"

--

"If I wanted to give Eames something, something personal and meaningful, what would I give him?" Arthur asks.

Yusuf is silent for a beat. "Are you asking me for relationship advice, Arthur?"

Arthur sighs over the phone. "Yes, I am."

"You know that the closest thing I have to a relationship right now is with Peter right?" Yusuf pauses. "Y'know, my pet iguana?"

Arthur rubs at his temples, trying to fight the migraine that is creeping slowly up on him. "I'm asking you because you're Eames' best friend. Has he mentioned anything that he might want to you?"

"Not that I can think of," Yusuf says, sounding mildly apologetic. "Though, you can't really go wrong with wrapping yourself up in a bow and waiting for him seductively in bed or something, I suppose."

Arthur hangs up on Yusuf.

This relationship thing is doomed to fail.

--

"I think you should stay in Brussels for a few more days," Arthur tells Eames when Eames calls that night.

"What? Pet, are you freaking out over the dog tags?" Eames asks. "I told you to leave the freaking out for when I get home, didn't I?"

"I'm not freaking out," Arthur lies, and is glad that his voice comes out sure and calm. "I just think Brussels is a nice place and since you're there, you should go sightseeing."

"Arthur, I know what you sound like when you are freaking out."

"I don't sound like I'm freaking out," Arthur tells him cooly.

"That's my point!" Eames says. "You don't sound like you're freaking out when you're freaking out, which is how I know you're freaking out."

"That doesn't even make sense!" Arthur cries, and okay, his hands are flailing, and he's glad that Eames cannot see him right now.

"Arthur," Eames says, and his voice is gentle, like he's trying to calm Arthur down, which is stupid, because Arthur is not freaking out, "darling, they're just my dog tags. You don't have to keep them if you don't want them."

Only, it sounds like you don't have to keep me if you don't want me and Arthur doesn't know what to say to that. That's not even what Arthur means.

Eames sighs, and he sounds so horribly resigned that Arthur feels wretched about the whole thing. "I'll be back home tomorrow night, as planned, then we'll talk about it, yeah?"

--

Arthur sits in his study, sips at a glass of scotch, and spends hours staring at the flowchart of his relationship with Eames (it started 10 months ago, in Las Vegas, of all places, with what was supposed to be a one-night-stand; their first date was in Vietnam, two weeks after that; Arthur unofficially moved in 5 months ago), until the words blur and then.

And then he gets an idea.

--

Arthur is waiting for Eames in the living room when he gets home.

Eames looks tired. There are bags under his eyes, and his clothes are rumpled, but he's smiling, even if the smile doesn't really reach his eyes. "Hello, darling."

Arthur doesn't say I miss you or I know you didn't sleep because of me even though he really wants to, because he has this all planned out and Eames isn't going to derail him from his plans. He says, "Sit."

Eames does, flopping down onto the couch. The smile is gone from his face now, replaced by a look that is tentative and just a tad sad, and Arthur scowls instinctively because he doesn't want to see that expression on Eames' face.

"You should have told me," Arthur says after a long pause.

Eames frowns. "What about?"

Arthur makes a vague gesture to the area around them. "Us being in a relationship, me moving in, my name being in the title of your house-"

"Our house," Eames interjects, softly.

Arthur looks at him, just looks at him for a long moment. "Our house," he repeats.

Eames smiles. "It doesn't have to be a relationship. We don't have to put labels on anything. We can just be us, it doesn't matter."

Arthur is pensive at that. Then he cocks his head slightly and asks, "Why did you give me your dog tags?"

Eames shrugs. "I found them the other day and thought I'd give them to you so you'd have something of mine to keep with you when I'm away on jobs or anything. It's just… It felt right to give them to you," Eames says.

Arthur nods at that and smiles almost ruefully. "I made charts trying to figure out what to give you in return."

Eames laughs. "Of course you did," he says fondly. "You don't have to give me anything in return, love. I just wanted you to have them."

"I know," Arthur says, and he reaches into his pocket to draw out a small box, which he passes to Eames. He lets out a laugh, then, nervous. "I'm not giving you this because I feel like I have to give you something in return for the dog tags, or because I spent too much time trying to figure out what to give you to not give you anything. I'm giving this to you because I trust you and I want you to have it."

Eames opens the box, and then looks up sharply at Arthur. "Darling, this-"

"It's an exact replica," Arthur tells him, "so it's not just symbolic or anything. I weighted it exactly as I did my own."

Eames stares at him, blinks.

Arthur grins. "I feel like we exchanged roles."

"Arthur," Eames murmurs, "love, you gave me a replica of your totem. It's not something that you can take back."

Arthur nods. "I know. That's the whole point," he says simply.

Eames laughs shakily at that and rubs a hand over his face. "I'm going to tell you something right now, and I need you to promise me that you're not going to freak out."

Arthur glares at him, unamused.

Eames looks him in the eye, serious, says, "I love you so much, Arthur, I do.", and then holds up his fingers slowly, one, two, three-

Arthur cries, "Are you counting down to me freaking out?", flings a pillow at Eames (he misses on purpose), calls him an asshole, and then closes the distance between them with a kiss.