The small curve of a building, the right color of the grass on a hilly knoll, the shape of the world around her required perfection. Or, in some cases, it meant that she had to expose all the flaws in order to make it work. It could cost a job, a mark, sometimes their lives. Ariadne prided herself on getting it exactly right.
Details made up her life and made-up details were her life.
So how the hell she had missed Eames and Arthur being in love was beyond her.
Later when she thinks about it, Ariadne will be more than a little surprised that it had taken her so long to see it. She can't be blamed for that either, really. Though, she will forever give Yusuf a hard time for not telling her. They were supposed to be the sane ones and stick together. Keeping secrets about their co-workers (okay, friends, because she loves them all) was not on.
Regardless, she should have been able to figure out the whole situation. She was smart (at least that was what Cobb and Miles constantly told her), and her observational skills had to be pretty keen (because who was the one that figured out the convoluted, psychotic state that was Cobb's angst-ridden maze of a brain? Yeah, that was her, thank you very much) in order for her to do her job. It was in the details, all of it, and maybe if they had been awake, maybe she wouldn't have seen it.
As matter of fact, she knows that she wouldn't have known, because apparently they were damn good at hiding it.
But no matter how much control they had in their dreams, sometimes they couldn't hide the truth from each other.
They were at the tail end of what had turned out to be a more complicated extraction than they had originally planned. The mark had been militarized, which they had prepared for, but they had somehow missed the fact that she was in love with her best friend and not the friend's husband.
(Arthur's face had turned an interesting shade of purple when that had been discovered, and Ariadne remembers their first job and the guilt Arthur still carries for not having all the information back then. She figures he is going to be a joy to work with in the next few months.)
Eames had been nearly torn apart and Cobb had run interference to get to him. They were two levels down and leaving Eames wasn't an option. (It never was with any of them.)
She'd watched Arthur's jaw clench and unclench, the tension in the line of his shoulders as they followed Cobb's and Eames’ progress around a corner. As they disappeared. she touched his arm and said, "They'll be okay, Arthur. We need to get that information."
His dark eyes had flicked over to her before staring for a long moment at the spot where they had last been, and then he nodded, turned and headed back inside.
"I'll meet you at the lobby level."
She nodded but he wasn't looking at her, purpose in his stride, and she watched him leave, wondered as she always did if Arthur realized his own feelings for Cobb. It made something ache inside her chest but she'd let go of that hope some time ago. She kept to the shadows as she made her way down the stairs ten minutes after Arthur had disappeared. Projections were getting frantic on the street level and they needed to be together for the kick into Arthur's dream. The structure of the dream still held, so in that way they were catching a break.
Arthur stood in the lobby, back to a wall, briefcase in hand as she joined him. He glanced at her then back out the door. "Cobb said they'll be here in a minute." He waved a talkie at her and she rolled her eyes, grinning a little. Leave it to Arthur to be always prepared. Eames was right when he called him the scariest Boy Scout ever.
Somewhere in the distance she could hear the beginning strands of music. Cobb stumbled in the door as the swell of sound got louder, holding onto Eames tightly. She watched Arthur rush to his side and practically throw the briefcase at Cobb before grabbing onto Eames. They shifted together until Eames' head leaned onto Arthur’s shoulder. Ariadne came up beside them, hovering in case they needed extra support, when she heard Eames say softly, "Don't have a fit, darling."
She glanced at Arthur, breath catching at the array of emotions that skittered across his face before settling on exasperation. His head turned slightly, lips brushing a quick kiss to Eames’ temple, muttering, "Shut up right now, Mr. Eames," and she felt herself lifted and gone with the last thought that she honestly didn't know her friends as well as she should.
When they woke up in Arthur's dream, there was no time for her to adjust the worldview she'd been mistakenly seeing, because Arthur's projections were already tearing at the walls. The second kick was upon them and when she finally opened her eyes, Yusuf's concerned face looking at her, she breathed easier. Turning her head, she watched Eames assist Arthur out of his chair, caught the way his fingers lingered on Arthur's face.
Her gaze came back to Yusuf and raising one eyebrow, she said,"Tell me everything."
More times than not, Cobb could be oblivious when it came to his team, to his family. He was good at building things and places. He understood the intricacies of stone, land, curves, angles and colors. But he had never been the one to know feelings, what people saw or did or wanted from each other. That had always been Mal's job. She had an ability to get a person, look at them and know what they needed or craved. She could have been an amazing forger, he had always thought.
But once in a while, Cobb could see more clearly than anyone else.
He knew the moment Eames fell in love with Arthur.
In truth, he'd known Eames for longer and much better than he knew Arthur. Unlike Arthur, Eames never bothered to hide his real feelings. He could mask their intensity more stealthily than the rest of them could, but hardly ever when it came to his team. And never when it came to Arthur.
They had worked together on several jobs because Mal liked having the routine of the same people and she only liked working with the best. Their best was always whenever Eames joined in as their forger, despite Arthur's disapproval. Cobb never really understood why that was. Eames was amazing, if a little unpredictable. He was smart, quick on his feet, and despite what people liked to say, he never left anyone behind. It was a steadfast rule of his. One that Cobb admired more than any other skill.
Their first three jobs were flawless and somehow that led to a confidence and arrogance that brought everything crashing down around their ears in the middle of the fourth job. Cobol had never been one of Cobb's favorite clients, but they paid generously and Mal needed the distraction, needed something new and challenging. Eames had tried to talk him around but in the end had joined them reluctantly.
Which is why Cobb wasn't in the least bit surprised at the glare that Eames was sending him when they woke up tied to chairs in a dark, damp factory, and only god knew what country they might be in.
He ignored it best he could, squirming in his seat and working at loosening the bonds around his hands.
"Can you get free?"
Eames made a noise that sounded much more mocking than it ought to have, seeing as he was just as screwed as Cobb. His movements were jerky, quick, and probably only making the straps tighter.
"Eames, I don't think--"
"Piss off, Dominic, and let me fucking do-" Eames’ words cut off as the door swung open and Cobb stared at the two men, bulky and built like barns, as his father would say, looming in the door way. One of them grinned crookedly.
"Hello gentlemen. I'm glad to see you awake."
"Where are Mal and Arthur?"
He saw Eames tense, but the man who'd spoken grinned at Cobb. "Your lovely wife is not far, Mr. Cobb. We are taking care of her, no worries." Cobb strained against his ropes, threats and insults crowding in his throat but he choked them back. He needed to keep his head until they could get out of this and find Mal and Arthur. The man's gaze turned back to Eames and there was a flicker of something... dark before it was shuttered away.
Cobb watched Eames carefully, noticed the way he kept his own gaze steady on the man. Eames leaned back into his chair, posture relaxed, and he smirked, saying, "Marcus. I should have known this cock-up was yours."
Cobb continued to work his hands silently, eyes flicking between Eames and their captor. He opened his mouth but the quick flick of Eames’ glare and the almost imperceptible nod of his head shut it again. If Eames knew this Marcus then that meant he knew the weaknesses they would need to get out of here.
Marcus' smile turned feral, ugly, as he sauntered closer to Eames, ignoring Cobb completely. "I would be careful what I said. I happen to have something of yours and I've been playing a little rough. Don't want to anger me enough to break it, do you?"
Eames' expression never changed but Cobb saw the coldness that entered his eyes and the way his fingers flexed behind his back. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean, dearest."
"Really?" Marcus smiled, sharp and cruel. Eyes never leaving Eames’ face, he opened the door once more and Cobb listened, heard the sound of fist hitting flesh and what was unmistakably Arthur groaning in pain. "We have been doing that for quite a while and he won't give up any information. It's impressive."
Something that sounded like bone cracked and Arthur's groan turned into a scream. Marcus waved a hand and his goon closed the door once more.
"He will talk eventually."
Cobb bit back the no that pressed against his lips. Arthur wouldn't give in. Ever. It was why he was so good at being the point. No one could break him. But he didn't have the same skill and he couldn't let him just--
Eames’ words were terse, harsh, and Cobb glared at him. He knew that Eames and Arthur weren't friends, but--
Marcus was watching them with interest, serenely smiling at them both. "Is there something you wanted to say, Mr. Cobb?"
"Don't, Cobb. He'll kill them anyway. I know Marcus. He enjoys the bloodshed quite a bit. It's why we had a falling out."
Marcus frowned. "I was disappointed you didn't have the stomach for… the rough part of our world, Eames. You are a brilliant forger. A great fuck, too."
Cobb watched Eames hold back a shudder at that reminder. "You're the one that's fucked, Marcus."
The silence that followed was weighted with things Cobb didn't understand or know, but the one fact he could discern was that Eames was getting ready to act. His own bonds had loosened enough and he assumed Eames had managed to free his hands.
"Confident about that are you?"
Eames’ eyes flashed, rage-filled and dark. "I am."
The door burst open on an explosion of gunfire, surprising their two captors, but he and Eames were ready. Marcus and the other man dove behind crates, attempting to avoid the bullets whizzing in the air. Mal was an excellent shot.
"I'm all right!"
He watched her throw Eames a knife and in two seconds he was undone, a blur of rage past Dom. He struggled to break his own bonds but Mal came to his rescue, kissing him soundly as she got him free. They turned and watched as Eames shoved the knife in his hand directly into Marcus' throat. Without pause, he fought off the other man, overpowering him and breaking his neck before turning on his heels toward the door.
Mal handed him her gun as he ran out. Cobb heard the sound of the gun in the other room and followed Eames to try to help.
There was no need.
No one except Arthur remained alive in the room.
Cobb's gaze fell on Eames, sitting on the floor with Arthur cradled in his arms. Arthur was bloodied and bruised, face swollen, cuts littering his arms and body. The angle of his leg was wrong and Cobb was sure that fingers on both his hands were broken.
Eames' shirt was removed and he gently wiped the blood from Arthur's eyes and face.
"You're okay, love?"
Arthur made a wheezing noise, his one good eye (the other completely shut from the bruising) staring directly at Eames. "Peachy."
Eames looked up at Cobb, eyes glassy, gaze broken, before glancing back down at Arthur. "We've got to move you, Arthur." It was quiet but firm, kind and warm, and Cobb knew.
His forger was in love with his point man.
Cobb thought this would be amazing... or the worst possible thing to happen to them all.
Everyone believed he took the inception job for the money, which to be honest was one of the reasons on his list. Yusuf liked money. But there had been the challenge of weaving dreams into three levels all folded in together. As a scientist, that had been another good reason. Running his sleep den had gotten tedious and he wanted to go somewhere else for a while. Perhaps the least important reason, really.
But, in truth, getting to meet (and vet, really) Arthur was the number one top reason that he walked into what he had thought would either be his death or just a complete and total disaster.
Yusuf had met Eames long before dream sharing had occurred to either one of them as a career. When Eames had been scamming tourists for rent money and Yusuf had been dealing in pills to keep his own stomach full. The fact that neither one of them needed to struggle, that they had families with enough money to keep them well and truly flush for a good length of their lives, but that neither wanted to live with the shackles that entailed, was the real reason they had become friends.
Real friends were hard to come by in their business (and lives) and taking care of each other was an unspoken agreement.
So Yusuf chose to follow in the wake of Cobb and company in order to both keep Eames alive and figure out if his friend's heart was in danger of being broken irrevocably.
In all honesty, he had not been impressed by Arthur. Initially. Oh, Arthur was brilliant. He could fix any problem within a short amount of time and any parameters given. He was frighteningly intelligent and sickeningly capable. The best point man Yusuf had ever seen. Eames had not been wrong about that.
Yet Arthur seemed completely oblivious to Eames’ feelings. If he spoke to Eames, it always had an edge or dripped with condescension. Though to be fair, his friend hid his feelings well, behind sleazy smirks and non-subtle innuendos. If you did not know him, that is. But Yusuf was sure that Arthur did know Eames. Which brought Yusuf to the conclusion that Arthur simply did not feel the same.
When inception was finished and they headed in separate directions with strict orders to keep communication to a minimum for at least a month before meeting back up in New York to make sure it had all worked to plan, Yusuf tried to find the words to tell Eames that he could do better. Something in his friend's eyes kept him from doing so. A glimmer of happiness that he couldn't explain. Maybe Eames had met someone. He did not want to ruin Eames’ good time if that was the case.
They met in Los Angeles, then hopped on a plane to New York and caught up with a much calmer-looking Dominic Cobb and his point man. Arthur smiled warmly at Yusuf and greeted him with a cheerful hello. When his gaze turned toward Eames, his smile turned brighter, dimples appearing out of nowhere, and that was completely unexpected.
He took the next job because he wanted to know what exactly he was missing.
Three weeks later he got his answer.
He had been working on a compound that he hoped would allow them to go under more than one level at a time, to control that aspect without having to sleep their way into each layer, and if not erase the possibility of limbo then at least give them a better chance of coming up to the surface if anything should go wrong. He had woken up in his hotel room with the probable solution to what was wrong with his formula, and, knowing he would be alone for a few hours, headed into the warehouse to work it out.
Opening the door, he had noticed the light coming from just inside the large work space that was designated for Arthur. Hoping the point man had not fallen asleep at his desk again, Yusuf quietly made his way in and stopped in his tracks, blinking furiously at the sight.
Arthur had Eames backed up against a desk, hands framing the forger's face as he spoke, too softly for Yusuf to make out the words, but the joy that filled Eames’ eyes was enough of a clue for Yusuf to back away and out the door. Leaning against it, he smiled widely and hoped that he would remember later to congratulate his friend.
He thinks it is amusing watching the dance that the forger and the point man engage in despite the fact that it is obvious to anyone with eyes that they are, for lack of better words, in love. They seem to revolve around one another, never quite touching, never quite understanding, but there, always.
Saito is not aware of their story, not fully. He can see history in their interaction, in the way they place their bodies to protect each other. Arthur counts on Eames to do his job. He doesn't ask or doubt that the forger will. He knows. They are meant in some basic way. It is written in all that they do, even if neither one understands what it means to be what and who they are. He knows they might see others more clearly then they do what they are together.
There is an image of them in his mind from a job he had hired them to do, and insisted on going because he missed dreaming with them in a visceral way that he missed few things. The job had finished easily enough, not flawless but most certainly not inception chaos, and the music swelled, their guide out, and he'd turned to glance behind at the rest of the team for the signal when he caught sight of them.
They stood side by side at the ready, both holding identical stances, tension on their shoulders. Arthur held a briefcase in one hand, no doubt with the information they required, head turned toward his left, his eyes scanning the horizon as the music grew louder. Eames' head was turned to the opposite side, his eyes watching carefully. In the middle, their hands were laced together, fingers intertwined. Locked in place as if that was where they were meant to be.
He was not a sentimental man. Not truly. But that picture stayed with him long after they were awake.
Contrary to belief, Eames wasn't the type of man who gave his affection -- his true affection -- away easily. He'd learned from an early enough age to keep his feelings close to the vest and be careful with whom he shared them. It was one of the few things his family taught him that came in handy for the remainder of his life. But he wasn't someone who shied away from his feelings either. It was an interesting contradiction to live with. It made it difficult to trust but easy to engage with others.
He never gave away everything, always keeping half his heart to himself.
Arthur was the exception to every rule Eames had ever made.
He doesn't remember when he fell in love with Arthur. It wasn't the first time they met (or the second or third), but it was a fact that just... was. One day he looked up at Arthur, sleeves rolled up his arms, hair a bit of a mess from Arthur running his hands through it, brow furrowed in concentration, and he'd thought simply, Oh bloody hell.
Then Arthur had been hurt and everything had changed. His world had focused on just one thing: He needed Arthur to survive. The simple thought was a clear fact, a reality he had to deal with. Because Arthur would never see Eames. Not that way. Not for a long time. He knew that much. There was an ache that accompanied knowing that he would love Arthur until it all ended, whatever it all was, but it wasn't painful. It simply was. Continued to be. Would always be.
So he joined Cobb and Mal and Arthur time after time, and when Mal died, sending Arthur and Cobb running, he kept tabs, ran interference when it was necessary, and made sure neither of them knew.
When inception happened, he couldn't imagine being anywhere else. They didn't die and no one lost their sanity and Eames counted that as the hugest win of his entire career. It was the hardest job he'd ever pulled but the best (and worst) time he'd ever had in a dream. Which really said more about his own mental state than anything else could.
The best part was Arthur's face when Ariadne relayed how Eames had added the back tunnel to the dream, the snow mobiles, the taking out of the guards, quick thinking that had saved them all. He looked at Eames with wonder and pride and something else in his eyes that Eames wasn't sure he wanted to look at too closely.
"I had no idea you were so talented, Mr. Eames."
Eames smirked and shrugged, saying, "I have many talents, darling."
The gleam in Arthur's eye sent a warmth through Eames, his heart stuttering for a second, and it remained there. Every time Eames looked at Arthur it was there, making something grow inside his chest, hope and want that he'd managed to curtail for years.
They were thieves. They stole ideas and information and thoughts. Sometimes dreams and hopes and lives.
Eames thought it would never work. Trust was hard to come by.
He trusted Arthur despite all that.
Which was the scariest truth to know.
The day that Arthur kissed him for the first time, Eames hadn't been expecting anything. He wasn't even sure what happened exactly.
They had a huge job to prep for and he wasn't even required to be there yet. But Arthur had insisted. They were stuck at work for hours, early morning light filtering through the windows and touching softly on Arthur’s head. Eames watched transfixed, his heart stuttering so hard, he resisted the urge to put a hand to his chest.
He needed to get away from Arthur for a few hours. Exposure to him was painful sometimes, and Arthur... he didn't seem ready yet.
So he'd stood up, met Arthur's curious gaze and smiled tiredly. Maybe there was something else in the smile because Arthur froze when he saw it, glancing at Eames’ mouth before meeting his eyes again.
Eames cleared his throat. "I'm knackered, darling. If you don't need anything else..."
Arthur set the file in his hands down on the desk and before Eames could blink was standing in front of him, walking Eames until he was squeezed between the desk at his back and Arthur.
Arthur's hands came up to frame Eames’ face, his thumbs trailing softly against Eames’ jaw, pressing there as he said, "You love me."
Eames' mouth fell open, his first instinct to deny and run, but he didn't. They weren't young anymore. He didn't lie and run away. It wasn't a secret, really. The truth had always been as simple as that. He loved Arthur completely.
"I have for a long time, yes."
Arthur's face lit up and then his lips were touching Eames‘, pressing softly, teasing and hot, wet nips that coaxed a groan out of Eames. Arthur’s was mouth warm and insistent, his hands gripping at Eames’ waist, digging hard into his hips. Eames leaned up into it, opened to Arthur's explorations, one hand coming up to grip at Arthur's neck, the other clamped on Arthur's shoulder. The burning of want mixed with a fear that this was a dream, that Arthur would leave and...
Pulling away, Eames inhaled harshly. "Jesus, Arthur."
Arthur's lips skimmed across Eames’ skin, stopping to suck a kiss in one spot, then another. He pushed closer until there was no space between them and leaned away to meet Eames’ eyes. "You were never going to make a move, were you?"
Eames protested. "I was -- I didn't think you were ready yet."
Arthur raised one eyebrow, smile turning into a smirk, his fingers tracing the expanse of Eames’ exposed neck, fluttering gently against his pulse before touching their foreheads together. "I've been ready since I was twenty, Eames. This is seriously the longest fucking courtship in the history of the universe."
And Eames’ heart stopped because that meant...
"I met you when you were twenty." As if it couldn't be right. As if Arthur hadn't done the math correctly. As if...
Arthur blinked at him. "Right."
Eames shook his head. "That can't--"
Arthur cut off his protest with another kiss, deepened it until Eames couldn't breathe once more, stopping only to whisper into his mouth. "I've been in love with you from the beginning."
Eames closed his eyes, his chest swelling with happiness, and grinned against Arthur's mouth, pulled him in closer. "You certainly keep a man waiting, love."
Arthur grinned back. "No more waiting." His mouth closed over Eames‘, seeking permission and laying a siege to conquer.
Eames let Arthur in, kept him close and fit him into those empty places that were Arthur-shaped.
This was the truth of Eames’ life.
Arthur was in love with Eames.
Deeply and completely and never-ending.
What surprised and thrilled Arthur more than anything was that he liked the man just as much as he loved him. That wasn't something he could have predicted when it all started. Oh, Arthur knew himself well enough to know Eames was going to burrow his way into Arthur's heart until there was nothing left of it but Eames. Had known it from the first time he'd seen Eames.
Love at first sight.
No one would believe it.
The thing was, Eames was easy to love if you let yourself. He was sharply brilliant, kind whenever he could be, scarily efficient. He was loyal to the death if he deemed you worthy. Eames let few people in, but when he did, that was it. You were there forever. Arthur had known that since the Kirby job, when he'd been tortured and Eames had… Well, Eames had shown his cards then and Arthur had wanted to let him know.
Then, Mal died. And Cobb was lost.
The whole world had changed and Arthur couldn't tell him. Not yet. So he hoped and kept his own feelings locked away so he could do his job.
During inception it was Eames who came up with every solution, who found an angle to work with at any turn where they needed something more. He'd built secret paths and almost been killed trying to keep them all alive. When they were free and Arthur could want, he did. Arthur wanted everything from Eames.
No matter what the world thought, Arthur was neither rigid nor unfeeling.
What he loved most about Eames was that he let Arthur be those things the world didn't know.
Once he'd let Eames know he was wanted and very much needed, they'd found a rhythm to their lives and in their relationship. Between jobs, they stayed in either Eames’ flat in London or Arthur's Victorian in Seattle. Arthur's favorite was actually Eames’ flat. The walls were entire bookshelves that Eames had built into the rooms, stuffed to the brim with books and papers. There were paintings hung every way he turned, a tapestry Arthur was certain had come straight from the Palace, and endless touches of color and life that screamed Eames.
Arthur loved Eames’ study the most. He loved watching the reproductions Eames did come to life, awed by the ease of forgeries that few would be able to identify.
Eames was tactile. Hands and mouth constantly caressing, kissing, touching, worshiping...
He liked to touch Eames back. A lot. Anywhere and everywhere.
Eames had the warmest skin, soft to the touch and hard to resist. It made Arthur come alive from the inside out, made his blood pump and his lungs expand.
Arthur sounded like a complete dork when it came to Eames.
He didn't particularly care that he did.
The best days were the ones where they stayed in bed, no jobs, no meetings or plans with the team. Just Arthur and Eames. That was what he liked best. He turned over, eyes opening slowly and focused on the expanse of skin he found in his line of sight. Tracing the dark curves of ink with his gaze, he let himself look, always hungry to know more, to know everything about Eames.
"You're doing it again, love."
Arthur blinked and brought his gaze up to meet Eames’ amused one. "Am I?"
Eames nodded, turning and pressing his face in the space between Arthur’s neck and shoulder. He liked it there and Arthur had no complaints. Eames could reside wherever he wanted on Arthur.
"You are," he mumbled into Arthur's skin, breath warm and wet. "It's a little creepy, Arthur."
"You like me creepy."
"That is a complete truth."
Arthur bit back a grin, wrapping his arms around Eames to pull him closer, legs tangling together under the covers. "I'm only creepy for you, baby."
Eames’ laughter rumbled against Arthur's chest, tremors of heat through his body.
"That was a horrible, horrible thing to say. Is that what you said on the pull before me? Because that would explain a bloody hell of a lot."
There was no one before you, he thought. No one that mattered.
"Shut up, Mr. Eames, and go back to sleep."
Eames breathed deeply, smiling up at Arthur, and closed his eyes. Arthur followed suit, and right before he fell into the darkness he heard Eames’ voice.
Smiling, he mumbled back, "Me, too," and chased Eames into sleep.