If she were to be entirely honest Mal would say that she enjoyed Eames' constant needling of Arthur more than someone should. She also knew that Eames had noticed her covering smiles with her hand, ducking her head away, and that it had only made him worse.
She couldn't help it, though, really. Arthur was wonderful, and clearly gifted, but he was also so tied up in himself; so certain of what he should be, what he should look like that he left no room for who he was.
Every time he rose to Eames' baiting, though, there was a hint of the boy he must have once been – in the quirk of his lips, or somewhere in the corner of his eyes – and it made her heart warm to see it.
She thought it was all play, of course, and joked about it with Dom over many dinners until –
Arthur liked to test himself, going under with Dom whenever he could, running maze after maze after maze ("Honestly, Mal, I think he'll be the best in the world one day," Dom had said, shaking his head slowly). Mal had arrived at the warehouse a little early, having chosen to walk, and they were still under when she arrived.
She stepped forward, thinking about settling into the chair beside Dom, of being there when he woke, when something stopped her. A shiver of movement in her peripheral vision. She leant against a wall and ducked her head, tilting it to catch the movement again.
Eames, teeth worrying his bottom lip slightly, moving to crouch beside Arthur, staring down at his face. Arthur was shifting in his sleep (running, Mal thought) and Eames slid a hand gently along his arm, squeezing his shoulder for a moment. Arthur quieted and Eames let out a soft breath.
The angle wasn't quite right but Mal was certain of the soft tenderness in Eames' face, mocking lines soothed away by genuine care. It was unlike any expression she'd ever seen on his face before. She took a thoughtful step back, tapping the fingers of one hand against her leg.
Perhaps the needling wouldn't be so funny, now.
Somewhere in the back of his mind Dom knew he was pushing them too hard; himself, Arthur, even Eames. Burying himself was the easiest way to lose the memory of those fluttering curtains, of that hotel ledge, but it was taking its toll.
Arthur would never take it out on him – since Mal's death he'd stopped looking at Dom with the faint edge of worship that had embarrassed Dom, but Arthur still respected him too much. Dom could no longer understand why.
Instead the familiar back-and-forth that infused any job that Arthur and Eames worked took on an unfamiliar sharpness, Arthur becoming more and more infuriated and Eames reacting by becoming worse.
Dom blamed himself. When he arrived at the warehouse at three a.m, when any decent human would've been buried in their own dreams, he could see lights on in Arthur's section. He'd been intending to wrap himself in his memories, ease the pain for a moment. Now he wanted to apologise to Arthur.
He let himself in quietly, on the possibility that Arthur might have fallen asleep at his desk ("His youth comes back when he sleeps," Mal had noted once, smiling so easily), and walked on soft steps through the warehouse.
He stopped when he heard soft voices, a low murmuring, and slid with caution toward somewhere he could see from. He picked out Eames' warm tone as he moved, and Arthur's too; sounding so weary. He couldn't get close enough to hear the words, not without being seen.
Dom peered around a corner and saw them; Eames leaning one hand on the back of Arthur's chair, the other on the edge of the makeshift table. Eames ducked his head down, still talking, close enough that Dom thought his breath might blow across Arthur's ear.
Arthur looked up at Eames and Dom hated the tightness around his eyes. Eames shared the look, part of a smile lifting one side of his mouth, and shifted his hand, ghosting it over Arthur's shoulder to press fingers against the nape of his neck. Arthur leaned into the touch briefly, eyes fluttering half-closed, and Eames' expression shifted to something foreign, something quiet.
Dom leaned back, his heart falling through his chest. He remembered the last time someone looked at him like that.
Eames was the sort of guy that Ariadne's mother warned her about, before she left home for Paris. He was all British charm and wide smiles and flirtatious wit. Ariadne would have been charmed by him regardless – but he took the time each day to ask her a little about her life, her world, which was more than the others did, even Arthur.
("He likes learning people," Arthur said when she mentioned it. "Any people.")
Ariadne also knew that Eames was the kind of guy that most people would fall far easily, distracted by the curves of his lips or the way he wore his terrible clothing with pride. She didn't, though, because anyone with eyes and ears could see there was no point. Eames was hopelessly entangled with Arthur.
For most of the first few weeks the team was all together she thought that Arthur didn't notice the flirting, the pig-tail pulling, and wondered if Eames just kept on trying out of habit. She probably would have gone on thinking that if she hadn't caught them.
It wasn't really anything scandalous – but she still felt guilty about seeing it, knowing that it was a moment that was for them and them alone. She tried to reassure herself by saying she hadn't meant to, that she wasn't to know they were there, but it rang hollow in her ears.
Eames had returned from studying Browning and had hung around the warehouse all day; chatting to Yusuf about his chemicals, exchanging anecdotes with Saito, being accused of being in the way by Arthur, looking over level three with Ariadne. Ariadne had assumed he'd had his fill by the time she finished for the night, the clock pushing one a.m.
The sound of voices lured her, knowing that Cobb was asleep and dreaming under the watchful eye of Yusuf, and she'd followed them, ducking around a corner and catching sight of Arthur and Eames.
They were sitting opposite each other, on the edge of two chairs, knees practically touching, heads bent together. Ariadne hugged the shadows, curiosity getting the better of her.
"You know this will be more dangerous than anything else we've ever done," Arthur said quietly, no drama in his voice, just fact. Eames sniffed.
"Darling, danger is my middle name," Eames said, smiling. Arthur frowned at him.
"Your middle name is William," Arthur said, cocking his head to one side.
"You do care," Eames said, softly. Ariadne had to lean forward to hear it.
"Don't," Arthur said, a sudden tension in his voice. Eames' smile slipped. He took one of Arthur's hands between his and turned it over, pressing a gentle kiss to Arthur's palm.
"I'll be careful, love," Eames said. Arthur's fingers curled up, tangling with Eames'.
"I know," he said, leaning their foreheads together.
Ariadne realised that Arthur was just as entangled with Eames as Eames was with him. She also realised she didn't know what to do with that information.
Working with Eames was always an adventure. Yusuf had swore he would retire on his inception millions but Eames always managed to convince him to take just one more job. ("Just one, Yusuf, for old time's sake," with that grin of his that knew Yusuf would always say yes.)
He had to admit that it was nice to see Ariadne again, this time. She'd grown into herself and the confidence that came with being the most sought after architect in the business shone out of her.
There was Arthur as well, dragged along like the long-suffering enabler they all knew he wasn't. Arthur worked with Eames a lot more since Cobb had gone back to his family – Yusuf had helped them test out a string of new extractors, but nobody really had the gift for it that Cobb had.
Yusuf could already tell that this one was going to be a wash-out, and he was fairly certain the others knew it too. He was too cocky, too certain that he knew what was best. Arrogance only took someone so far in their business.
But Yusuf put them all under and settled himself into an armchair to watch over them. Ariadne sat at a desk, sketching something for a legitimate job while the timer ran down. Because of that Yusuf was the one paying attention when Arthur started awake, kicked out of the dream early.
Arthur looked at Eames before he did anything else, one hand brushing against his pocket briefly. The other hand slid into Eames' before Yusuf could even register what he was seeing.
"Idiot," Arthur murmured, ducking his head to press it against Eames' shoulder for a brief second. He released Eames' hand and looked up, meeting Yusuf's eyes.
Yusuf tilted his head, all the question he allowed himself to ask, and Arthur sighed. That was enough for Yusuf to see all seven years of Arthur and Eames' history in one place: the half-fond, half-irritated look Arthur bestowed on Eames' face.
"He's not going to be happy when he wakes up," Arthur said to the room at large. "We'll have to get him out of here before he scares the mark."
Yusuf nodded, leaning forwards to check the timer on the PASIV. He'd always expected that Arthur and Eames' barbs had hidden a bigger picture, he was pleased that Arthur had let him see a glimpse of it.
It was perhaps a little foolish to hold a celebration of an anniversary very few of them liked to talk about, but ten years had passed since the inception job and those ten years had been very good to Saito. Being a multi-billionaire was an enjoyable lifestyle.
He flew everyone to Tokyo, took out an entire floor of one of his hotels, and ordered no expense to be spared. Cobb brought his children and unleashed them on Akihabara. Ariadne asked Saito to show her his favourite parts of the city and he obliged. Yusuf disappeared into Shinjuku with Eames' laughter following him.
Saito wasn't certain where Arthur and Eames spent their day, though he knew they spent it together. Their relationship had been the hardest to read when he first came to know Cobb's team – too many layers, he felt, for one relationship to bear – but in the years since he'd come to understand them well.
He was often amazed by how much they could say to each other with so little.
He came upon them quite by accident, on his way to give final instructions for the celebrations, and allowed himself a moment to observe their quiet interplay.
Arthur fussed at his hair until Eames captured his hands, pulling them down and shaking his head.
"No-one minds the grey," Eames said. "Only you."
"I still can't believe I'm going grey before you," Arthur said, leaving his hands in his lap when Eames released them. Eames touched a hand over his heart and wrote shock large on his face.
"I'm hardly that much older than you," Eames said, the smile in his eyes belying his faux-shock. "You wound me, Arthur."
"I couldn't if I tried," Arthur said, lips twisting into a wry smile.
"And you wouldn't try, anyway," Eames said, ducking his head slightly. It was an uncharacteristically shy movement.
"No, darling," Arthur said, affecting Eames' intonation of the word. "I wouldn't."
Eames smiled, a slow smile Saito had never seen before, and leaned in to press a brief kiss to the corner of Arthur's mouth. Arthur turned his head and caught Eames' lips for a moment that seemed to last a lifetime.
(Saito knew about lifetimes that passed in moments. He still dreamt of sandy buildings and lost lives. "Be young men together, once more.")
"Everyone will be waiting," Eames said, standing and holding a hand out to Arthur. Arthur took it and stood gracefully, as elegant as he had ever been.
"We wouldn't want that," Arthur said, twining his fingers into Eames'.
"No, we wouldn't," Eames said, pressing his shoulder against Arthur's. Arthur bumped him back and they turned toward Saito, now making his best effort to appear as though he'd just entered the corridor.
"Gentlemen," he said when he caught their eyes, nodding. They nodded back, Eames offering a smile, and Saito trapped his own smile in his chest.
It lightened his heart to see the casual intimacy Arthur and Eames covered themselves with. He touched the centuries old coin in his pocket, tracing the mark he'd scratched into himself, and enjoyed the reminder that reality was a world full of good.