Arthur admits defeat on July 21st. They’ve been in Tijuana for three weeks and he can’t spend one more day around Eames in this heat without losing his mind. Everyday has consisted of a deliberate, leisurely striptease as Eames peels himself out of his layers in an effort to keep cool.
Yates, the extractor, commented on Arthur’s third trip to the bathroom in under an hour, making Eames smirk when Arthur mumbled about too much coffee. When he returned from willing away his erection, Eames held eye contact as he rid himself of the undershirt clinging to his torso, thus negating Arthur’s hard-won control.
Let it never be said that Arthur doesn’t enjoy a good game of cat and mouse. The last six years of flirting, double entendres, and blatant propositioning have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated, and he’s confident Eames knows this. It therefore stands to reason that he has no intention of being straightforward about his concession. If this is a game, Arthur intends to win.
Eames is leaning on the door of the aging fridge, enjoying the cool air as he eyes the contents. The others have escaped to the cantina down the street in search of refreshment and air conditioning. They have the office to themselves.
Arthur slides up behind him, pausing to appreciate a bead of sweat escaping from Eames’ hairline to trail down his neck and over his shoulder. Eames smells like dirt and clean sweat and Arthur wants to lick him. He leans in to do just that and promptly sneezes.
In addition to disgusting the object of his affections, Arthur manages to scare him shitless, wincing at the crunch of Eames’ head colliding with the handle of the freezer door. Eames’ heated swears coincide nicely with Yates barging into the office, shouting about the policía. All in all, it’s not their smoothest exit.
Eames hadn’t mentioned the sneezing incident, but he did complain about the concussion daily over text and email. He even sent Arthur a copy of the x-ray, no doubt hoping to cash in on any residual guilt Arthur may feel. Arthur sent Eames a picture of the framed film hanging in his living room and the forger had been curiously silent ever since.
Two months later Arthur picks Eames up from the train station in Bremen. Or, rather he tries to. Arthur spots Eames only seconds before he spots the tail in the rearview mirror. Thinking fast, or perhaps unusually slow, he hits the gas, bumping the car onto the walkway and right into the path of the man he adores.
The tail disappears quickly when the flashing lights arrive, and Arthur follows the ambulance to the nearest hospital. Eames limps away with a dislocated kneecap and is surprisingly committed to ignoring Arthur for the remainder of the job. For the first time, Arthur thinks he may be going about this seduction the wrong way.
Arthur isn’t supposed to be in the dream, so it isn’t surprising that he’s confused when he plugs in. Eames is the dreamer and Arthur is expecting the general air of oversaturation that always seems to permeate his soon-to-be paramour’s subconscious. Instead, he’s assaulted by the rich greys and blacks that colour this world. He feels like he’s stepped into an old film, an impression that’s strengthened by the brunette in the trench coat walking toward him. Her heels click on the pavement, echoing on the empty street.
He knows this woman, has seen Eames transform into her on multiple occasions when impressing a client is required, and so, inspired by the romantic ambience of the scene around them, he meets her halfway, pulling her to him and crushing their lips together.
He has to admit later, much later, that it was his own research that failed him. The knife knicks a rib, jolting him out of the kiss and sending him stumbling on the slippery cobblestones. Arthur opens his mouth to protest and she stabs him again. He sees the real Eames pull a gun out of thin air over the woman’s shoulder and chokes out his name.
When the job is done and Eames asks him about it, Arthur puts three continents between them in 24 hours. There’s just no good way to explain why you were making out with a projection of another man’s mother.
The new year finds them in Manhattan, executing a complicated plot of deception in an attempt to rid an investment banker of secrets he has no business possessing in the first place. Eames has infiltrated the banker’s office and is standing in the small kitchen, regaling the mark and two other workers with a story Arthur knows he’s taking liberties with. There were only two muggers in Costa Rica, not six, and Arthur did most of the work, while Eames shouted encouragement from the ground while cradling his broken pinky finger.
Arthur is delivering the PASIV in the guise of, well, a delivery man. Sometimes elaborate plots aren’t needed, no matter what his partner in crime says. He leaves the box on the mark’s desk and slips past the kitchen to hide in the utility closet until Eames texts him. As he goes by, he can’t keep himself from brushing his palm firmly across the swell of Eames’ ass, causing the forger to startle and slop hot tea down the front of his slacks.
Watching Eames hiss with every movement, and refusing help with his line, Arthur decides maybe the shortest distance between two points is a straight line for a reason.
It’s a little known fact that Arthur is an accomplished cook. So when he discovers Eames is in Paris scoping out a mark for his next job, Arthur invites him over for dinner and sets about preparing to dazzle. He keeps it simple, yet flawless, and whips up hand battered fish and chips, hoping to appeal to Eames’ nostalgia for his homeland.
Arthur watches Eames take the first bite, waiting to bask in his praise. Eames’ frown is a surprise, but he does take a second sampling. Within seconds, Eames is gasping for air and turning a violent shade of purple. One ambulance ride and two shots of epinephrine later, and Eames is ranting about the level of villainy required for a person to believe paprika is an acceptable secret ingredient for fish and chips.
Despite his infatuation for the man, Arthur finds it very hard not to smother him with a pillow before he simply walks out.
“It occurs to me, darling, that you’ve been flirting with me.”
The voicemail is on his phone when he gets off the plane, and he’s too worn out to deal with it just then. Arthur’s been away for too long. Three weeks turned into three months, plus another five weeks in hiding when the job went sideways. He returns to his apartment wanting nothing more than a hot shower and a stiff drink. It’s a testament to his exhaustion that he doesn’t notice the shoes until he trips over them.
Arthur has his gun out before he recognizes the footwear and registers the sound of snoring drifting out from his open bedroom door. The light from the hall falls on the tableau of Eames in his bed, curled into a ball and drooling on Arthur’s pillow. He sighs, and goes back to shut off the lights. He undresses in the dark and reflects on ruined declarations and the death of possibility. He’s never been good at expressing his emotions, but somehow Eames figured it out in the end. He runs his hand gently through Eames’ hair, tucking himself as close as he can to the sleeping man without waking him.