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Who are you?

Chapter Text

Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?
Well, I fell in love with your sailor's mouth and your wounded eyes
You better get down on the floor, don't you know this is war
Tell me, who are you this time?
Tell me, who are you this time?

 Tom Waits, Who Are You (Bone Machine)

 

Chapter 1

 

“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck it, Cobb! I told you we couldn't do it on our own. Fuck you, I'm not cleaning up your mess this time! Fucking get someone else, I'm leaving and I'm going far away and I'm not coming back!”

Eames hears the door at the top of the stairs slam and footsteps thundering down the echoing wooden treads.

He moves out of the doorway where he had been poised about to climb to the loft he’d been directed to. Just in time for Arthur to come barreling out of the door, slamming it too and turning to stride off down the street, his jacket bunched in his fist.

“Eames? What the hell? What are you doing here? Fucking Cobb, never tells me anything!” he spits, brushing past Eames.

“Hang on, Arthur!” says Eames, “wait a minute, what’s going on up there?”

Arthur turns round, eyes on fire.

“Fucking Cobb and his crap planning! I'm sick of it and I'm not putting up with it anymore and leave me alone! I'm getting away from here and you can't stop me, Eames!”

“I'm not trying,” says Eames, taking a step back, holding his hands up.

“Better not,” Arthur mutters. “You coming?”

“Where, darling?” Eames keeps his distance, but tries to lighten Arthur’s mood. “Shall we fly to Riga for the weekend?”

“Riga!” says Arthur, “don't be ridiculous, Eames!” But he’s smiling a bit. “Riga! What the hell, Eames! Why are you always so …”

“Charming? Brilliant? Inspired? Right?” says Eames.

Arthur is grinning now. “So damn … here?” he says. “Why are you here? Fucking Cobb never said anything. He made me think we were supposed to do the whole damn job on our own and that’s just stupid and if he'd said you were coming that might have been different and oh god, I need a drink,” he says, taking a heaving breath.

“Plenty of great bars in Riga,” says Eames. “Riga’s lovely, this time of year. Lots of cafés, fewer wankers than Paris. Come on, you’ll love it, I know you will!”

“Eames, for fuck sake, I'm not going to Riga with you! What’s even in Riga? Do you even know? I'm going to the bar down the street and I'm going to stay there until I'm drunk and then I'm going to go to the hotel and I'm going to sleep for a week and then I'm going to go back home and hope I never see Dominic Cobb ... for a long time,” he trails off a bit weakly, turning to walk down the street, the way he’d been headed.

“Well, alright, if you insist,” says Eames, following. “We can go to Riga another time.”

Ahead of him, Arthur snorts. He is wearing, now Eames has time to notice, a pair of very well cut charcoal trousers. His waistcoat lets a little peek of shirt escape at the back, the puff of white drawing Eames’s eye. Trailing after an angry Arthur has its upside.

The bar Arthur steps into is empty save for one old man in a baggy jacket reading L’Equipe in a back corner and the bartender polishing glasses and watching horse racing on a silent television.

“Bonjour,” says Arthur.

“Ça va?” says the barman.

“Deux bières, s’il vous plait,” says Arthur.

Eames glances at him. His bad mood seems to have lifted a bit.

Arthur digs out money, pays the barman and carries the beers to a table by the window.

“Thank god for bars,” he says.

“For when Cobb is just too much?” says Eames.

“For when Cobb is just too fucking much,” Arthur agrees.

He sighs and runs his finger down the glass, dragging a clear path through the condensation. “Which is often,” he says, softly, “often.”

“I didn't realize it'd got so bad,” says Eames. “I mean, I knew it was pretty bad in Bangkok, and he was off the rails in Rio that time, but that was just after Mal … I don't know, I suppose I thought he'd get better.”

Arthur sighs. “But how do you, really? Get better, from that? God, Eames,” he says, “I should be more patient, I guess, but it's hard, you know? It's so fucking hard, sometimes.”

“Yeah, well, then he shouldn't be working, putting you at risk, driving you to drink in the middle of the afternoon,” says Eames. “Not that I mind drinking with you in the middle of the afternoon.”

Arthur laughs. “Sure beats drinking alone,” he says, taking a long swallow of his beer. “When did he call you?”

“Two days ago,” says Eames, “I was in Mombasa. Took me a day to get organized, sorry.”

“He never said a word to me, godamnit!” says Arthur, “I just don't know anymore sometimes what Cobb’s even thinking. I'm not sure he does either.”

“Well, I'm here now. We can manage him together, don't you think?” says Eames. “I'm all for continuing the first half of your plan though. I'll get us some more beers, shall I?”

“Yeah, I guess I don't need the second part now, if you’re here,” says Arthur, smiling up at Eames, the light from the window in his eyes.

Eames has to look away, dazzled. “Um, I'll just … “ he says, and steps towards the bar.

How long has he been following Arthur round the world? It's got nothing to do with Cobb at all, he'd have come uninvited, once he heard where he was and what they were doing. Arthur was right, they couldn't have managed it on their own, from what he has been able to piece together from industry gossip. And since when was Cobb so free with talk?

“It's ridiculous,” says Eames, coming back to the table, “I heard all about this job through the grapevine and I know it wasn't you gossiping so it must have been him …”

Arthur is slumped in his seat, drawing on the table with the wet from the beer bottle ring. He looks up, his eyes damp, completely changed from just a moment ago.

“Oh darling,” says Eames, “let's talk of something else, eh?”

“God, Eames,” says Arthur, rubbing at his eyes with the back of his hand, “I'm so tired of it all. I miss her too, and we just fight all the time and I feel so shitty but he just makes me too sad sometimes, you know?”

“Yes, I do know,” says Eames. “Now, shall I tell you about Riga?”

Arthur smiles. “What is it with Riga, anyway?” he says, “Yes, tell me about Riga.”

A couple of beers later, well on the way to the first half of Arthur’s plan, he says, “God, Eames, we better go back, I guess. Damn Cobb, I can't just leave him to his own devices.”

He stands up and holds his hand out.

Eames feels his chest clench. He takes Arthur’s hand to get up and expects him to drop it. But he doesn't. Arthur glances at the elderly newspaper reader, who’s engrossed. The barman is washing glasses. Arthur tugs Eames closer and whispers, “Come back with me?”

“Back where?” says Eames, also whispering. It's an odd moment, a bubble.

“The hotel,” says Arthur. “My hotel.”

“Of course, darling, anywhere, you know that.”

“Do I, Eames, do I?” says Arthur. He’s still holding Eames’s hand as he steps out of the bar. He drops it in the street, but crowds close to Eames, brushing shoulders, bumping hips as they walk down the street, past the loft, where Arthur glances up.

“Fuck it,” he says. “Tomorrow.” They continue round the corner to a Métro stop. Of course Arthur isn't staying in this slightly dingy neighborhood.

“I treated myself to the Plaza,” he says, “it’s the only thing keeping me sane.”

He grins at Eames as they wait for the train.

“Oh Arthur!” says Eames, “of course you did! How brilliant of you! … My bag’s at the …”

“You won't need it,” says Arthur, flatly, and steps into the train car.

Eames is frozen for a brief moment before stepping in after him. Arthur is standing, one hand on the pole. Eames stands behind him and reaches round to grasp the pole as well. Arthur relaxes minutely against him and Eames holds his breath, sure Arthur can feel his heart pounding with a jerky rhythm. Arthur is thrown against him as the train pulls off and Eames tilts his hips a tiny amount. Reflected in the window, Arthur’s eyes are unreadable as Eames stares at him over the heads of the seated passengers. Eames sees his own frown and bitten lip reflected back at him and has to look away. Arthur shakes himself and moves so he’s no longer pressed against Eames.

As the train pulls into the Alma-Marceau stop, Arthur says, “This is us,” and moves to the door.

Back on the street, Eames says, “Walk with me a bit? Take in the view from the bridge?” He’s not sure why he’s stalling going to the hotel, but Arthur nods and falls into step beside him. Alma is not the most romantic bridge in Paris, but the stroll is under trees and the view is pretty.

“Lovely,” says Arthur, turning away from the Seine, “but Eames, I'm actually exhausted. Aren't you? Did you even sleep on the flight? Have you eaten? Had a shower?”

“No, not really. Yes, a baguette. Yes, you'll be glad to know,” says Eames. Arthur tilts his head and slides a smile at him and quickens his pace.

“I can see why you like the area,” says Eames, as they pass Prada and Armani and Louis Vuitton.

“Mmmm, yes,” says Arthur, but he sounds distracted and he doesn't slow down to look in the windows. The Plaza Athénée doorman nods at Arthur and doesn't flinch at Eames following him. Nor does the concierge.

Arthur leads the way to the lifts and thank god there’s no one else waiting because now Eames is breathing a little fast and Arthur is crowding against his side, not looking at him, but Eames can see the corner of his mouth is curved up and a dimple is showing and the lift arrives and Arthur gets in, punches the floor number and turns to Eames, pressing forward, pushing him back into the corner of the lift and running his thumb down Eames’s cheek and across his mouth and Eames’s breath stutters and Arthur leans in and puts his mouth on Eames’s and Eames gasps and opens his mouth and Arthur presses forward even harder and curves his hand under Eames's chin and … the lift stops and the doors open and Arthur leans away.

There’s no one waiting.

Arthur takes Eames’s hand and pulls him out of the lift and down the corridor. Eames crowds up against him as Arthur unlocks the room. It’s a small suite, the furniture upholstered in gold tones, and there is a bowl of cream roses on the coffee table.

“It suits you, darling!” says Eames, and Arthur smiles at him.

“I do love the Plaza,” he says. “I don't always spend the money to stay here, but I had to, this time.”

“Where’s Cobb staying?” says Eames.

“Somewhere closer to the job site,” Arthur says vaguely, “We’re not really talking, outside of work. But I don't want to talk about Cobb, or hotels, or anything. Come here,” he says.

Eames steps into his space, slides his arm around Arthur's waist, tugs him close. He runs his other hand down the side of Arthur’s face, round to the back of his neck, and presses their mouths together.

“Oh Eames,” gasps Arthur, pulling back fractionally, “Thank god you came.”

“Of course, darling,” Eames murmurs into his mouth.

Eames has wondered if Arthur knows how he feels. Arthur seems to keep tabs on him. He flashes him rare smiles. He asked him to come drinking. He asked him back here. But in this moment, is he just a convenient body?

In this moment, does he care? Can he negotiate more later? It seems unlikely Arthur will just throw him out after. They need to work together. Especially if Arthur and Cobb are on the outs.

He drags Arthur closer. “Darling, what do you want?”

“You. I want you, Eames. Don't you know that? Am I so hard to understand?”

“No,” says Eames. “Yes.” He backs through the bedroom door, towards the bed, dragging Arthur with him, and falls back. Startled, Arthur falls too, listing to the side.

Eames reaches up to undo Arthur’s waistcoat buttons, sliding each one carefully free as Arthur props himself on one elbow and reaches down to run his hand along Eames’s jaw.

“I’m glad you didn't shave,” he says.

“Mmmm,” says Eames. “Get this off, won't you.”

Arthur sits up, shrugs off his waistcoat and unknots his tie. He holds out his wrists and Eames at first doesn't get what he means.

“Cuff links, please,” says Arthur. Eames pushes the small black silk knots from their holes, tosses them in his hand.

“Thank you,” says Arthur, taking them and leaning over to drop them on the nightstand. He turns back and waits. Eames gets the hint and sits up and undoes his shirt buttons. Slowly, since Arthur clearly wants to draw this out. Eames has no objection, the slowness only helping to stoke his want.

Eames tugs Arthur's shirt-tails from his trousers, undoes his belt buckle. The soft jingle is the only sound in the room, other than their breathing.

He thinks he understands what Arthur wants, here and now. He wants to be handled, rather than take charge. Cobb has exhausted him.

Eames draws his belt from its loops and drops it to the floor. He runs his hands down Arthur’s chest, under the wings of his shirt, soft and warm from the day, and pushes it off his shoulders. Arthur shivers and climbs into Eames's lap, his long fingers gripping Eames's shoulders, digging in. Eames tips his head back and Arthur drops his mouth to his throat.

“Too many clothes,” he says, his mouth pushing the edge of Eames's shirt collar aside, lips buzzing against his skin. He moves his hands and undoes the tab on Eames's collar. Eames grabs the back of the shirt and pulls it over his head, ruffling his hair. Arthur runs his hand down the back of Eames's head, dragging his fingers through his hair, down his neck, across his shoulder, lingering on his tattoos.

“I knew there was more,” says Arthur. “I've wanted to see more for a very long time.”

“That so?” says Eames. “You only had to ask, darling. Why did you never say, before?”

“Well, why didn't you?” says Arthur, biting along Eames's collarbone.

“Yeah, why didn't I?” says Eames. He has no time for regret, though, because Arthur stands up, drops his own trousers and bends to undo Eames's belt.

For all that Arthur seems to be taking the lead now, Eames thinks he knows what he really wants. He fits his hands around Arthur’s waist, stands up, turns and pushes Arthur down onto the mattress.

“Yes,” Arthur gasps. “God yes, Eames!”

Eames crawls up after Arthur, pushing him back. He grabs one wrist and pins Arthur's arm above his head, drops his mouth to the tender inner skin and noses towards his armpit. Arthur smells of stale deodorant and sweat. It shouldn't be appealing.

Arthur’s other hand cups the back of Eames's head, his thumb running down the nape of his neck, hard, the edge of his nail scratching slightly on the way back up.

Eames’s stomach flips a bit and he swallows. He feels his breath come shallow, jerky, and shuffles back a bit, trailing his hands down Arthur’s chest, his taut stomach, slipping under the waistband of his tight black briefs.

Arthur’s hips buck up as Eames rubs along his hard length, hot against his palm.

“Oh Eames,” Arthur sighs. “Finally.” And then he gasps as Eames skates his thumb over the head of his cock.

Eames drops more of his weight onto Arthur and pushes their hips together. It's awkward, but he pushes Arthur’s briefs down, and his own, and gets his hand on both of them together. Arthur gasps, rocking his hips up, turning his head to find Eames's mouth, biting at his lips, licking in, pulling away, panting. Eames can hardly catch his breath, and Arthur is almost keening under him, sending a wave of shuddery heat up his spine. Eames feels his orgasm building and feels the tremor in Arthur.

Arthur's hand tightens on Eames neck, fingers digging in. Eames speeds his hand, twisting it slightly, and feels Arthur go still, rigid, breathless, under him.

“There you go, darling,” he breathes, and Arthur comes, hot in Eames's hand. It’s enough to push Eames over too, and he collapses on Arthur’s chest.

“Oh god, Eames,” Arthur’s voice is hushed and shaky. His hand on Eames’s neck is warm, a bit rough. Eames heaves a breath and rolls to the side, his arm flung over his face.

“Arthur,” is all he can say, “Arthur.”

Minutes pass with only the sound of their heaving breaths, until Arthur laughs. “Fuck me,” he says, turning to look at Eames, dimples framing his mouth.

“Oh darling,” says Eames, “Anytime.”

Arthur snorts. “Mmmmm, Mr Eames,” he says, and gets off the bed.

The tension they’ve been building since this afternoon dissipates. Eames feels a twinge of regret, but Arthur seems light-hearted in a way he hadn’t before, even when Eames was making him laugh, and he can't regret that.

Eames watches him walk to the bathroom, his first unimpeded sight of the ass he's been admiring in suits for years.

Arthur comes back with a damp washcloth. “Clean up,” he says. “These Plaza housekeepers terrify me.”

It's Eames's turn to laugh. “You've a filthy mouth, love, but you're still so fastidious!”

“Yes, well,” says Arthur, “of course.

“Up,” he says, “it’s almost dinner time.”

Eames groans. “No, come back to bed.”

“Well … alright,” says Arthur, relenting, coming back to the bed and dragging the cover down. “Okay, I'm just going to call Cobb,” he says.

He settles with his head on Eames’s shoulder. “Hello, Dom,” he says into his phone, “What? Yes, he arrived. We'll see you tomorrow. No, I don't want to talk about it. Tomorrow, okay?” He clicks his phone off and flings it on the bed.

Eames looks at him, raises an eyebrow. “Does he know I'm here?” he says.

“Don’t think so. Hope not,” says Arthur. “But I am not talking about Cobb in bed. I have standards,” he says. His eyes have darkened, the spark damped down.

“Of course,” says Eames, “come here.” He leans down and kisses Arthur. “Tomorrow.”

Arthur settles on his side, curled towards Eames, and his eyes slip shut.