It's Ariadne's idea. It's always Ariadne's idea, if it's weird and creative and beyond the pale.
"We should get matching tattoos," she says, disturbingly clearly. She's got five empty glasses in front of her- and Eames could swear she had wine with dinner- and although she weighs about sixteen pounds, she's got a college girl's tolerance. "In honor of doing the impossible."
"Not the impossible," Eames points out. "Just the very difficult."
"Absolutely not," Arthur says.
"Oh, come on," Eames prods, popping somebody's discarded cherry into his mouth. "It would be awfully romantic of us. Sort of a Musketeers thing."
"Or like the A-Team," Yusuf offers.
"That's the spirit," Ariadne encourages.
"I said no," Arthur snaps, his face shutting down. He straightens in his chair, firmly dislodging Eames's hand, which had been resting comfortably on his thigh. Ariadne and Yusuf share a look, one that clearly says who the fuck is this guy who actually takes drunk people seriously?
"Who's for another drink?" Eames says, rubbing his hands together, a distraction. "I'm buying. Don't waste my money on anything that's less than eighty proof."
Ariadne leans over, giving him a challenging look. "Have you ever heard of a Walk Me Down Jesus?"
He laughs, loud and dirty. "Where have you been all my life, you gorgeous creature?"
Arthur doesn't come back to Eames's room that night. In fact, he doesn't come back at all. By the time Eames hears the news from a hungover Yusuf, Arthur is already on a plane, gone, destination unknown.
Eames isn't what you'd call faithful. To be perfectly frank, he's got one in every port- a little blue-eyed architect, a devastating German extractor, Yusuf- he's even got designs on filling the role of Ariadne's dirty older man, if she'll have him. They understand him, and he understands them- no strings, no non-booty-related phone calls, no regrets.
But Arthur and him, they're maybe a little bit more than that. If there's no Arthur, all bets are off, but if there is Arthur, there's nobody else. And it's different, with Arthur. They go out, just the two of them. Eames buys him things, little things like ties and handguns, just to see if he'll accept them. Some nights they just lay in bed and talk, naked but innocent, until they fall asleep.
They have a beginning and an end, him and Arthur, a flowing set of rules, and it's shocking that Arthur's been the one to finally break them. That one little omission, that day he left without saying a word, put more distance between them than there's ever been.
They were closer when they were strangers.
It sticks in the back of Eames's mind, that weird conversation, Arthur's misplaced touchiness, his sudden absence. It's so out of character; Arthur is a lot of unpleasant things, but icy calm has always been one of his virtues. He's laid back, in a weird sort of way, letting things roll off him with a smart remark or a long-suffering sigh.
The most perplexing thing about it is that Arthur's the one who actually has tattoos. All Eames has is a patch of slightly greyish skin on his thigh that used to be a woman's name. It was the first thing to go once he actually got serious about learning to forge, about leaving petty crime for the big leagues. He found he couldn't lose it, no matter what he did; it stuck to him, no matter what else he could change.
And besides, the woman had been long gone before the tattoo even healed.
Arthur, on the other hand, Arthur has more ink than a bouncer in a biker bar. Never anywhere outside of the bounds of his Savile Row suits, of course, but everywhere underneath them. Arthur has his astrological sign on his shoulder- Virgo, naturally, in shades of blue and brown- and an honest to god phoenix going up his rib cage, complete with flames. He's got a pistol on the back of one of his calves and a lion on the other.
Arthur has a tramp stamp, for fuck's sake.
Even in rebellion, Arthur is not very creative, but at least all of his tattoos are very high quality work. Eames has counted them, over and over, his tongue tracing over the looped M as he fucks him, his hand braced on the compass rose as he sucks Arthur off. He doesn't understand what could be so devastating about just one more.
Months go by, and he doesn't hear a word from Arthur. He hears things about him, now and again, a passed word of a job done well, a story of a daring escape. Eames is selective with his jobs, for once, now that he's got a truly outrageous amount of money at his disposal. He spends most of his time in Australia, where the climate and the suntanned surfers agree with him. He works a lengthy but fascinating gig in Paris, where Ariadne does eventually succumb to his various charms. He doesn't think about Arthur much at all, because it must be over; he's too pragmatic to think that it's anything else.
But then he's in Memphis, of all places, standing in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel with his latest employers. As they're waiting for the rest of the team to show up, a line of ducks marches across the room on their own little red carpet. Eames turns to look at them, and standing on the other side is Arthur, come back like the proverbial cat.
It is the most surreal thing that has ever happened to him, and he steals secrets from people's dreams for a living.
When they are reintroduced, Arthur makes no outward sign of recognition, but when Arthur shakes his hand, Eames comes away with a folded square of paper. There's nothing on it except for a room number and a time, just like always, and Eames makes sure he's there, then.
He's a pragmatist. He's not dead.
When Eames shows up, Arthur is predictable. He removes Eames's blazer, hanging it carefully as he does his thousand-dollar suit coats. While Eames's back is still turned, he puts his hands around Eames's waist and sinks his teeth delicately into Eames's trapezius muscle. And Eames still, somehow, finds it endearing, his formulaic overtures, the care and precision he has to inject even into something as sloppy and impromptu as sex.
Eames turns around and backs him up against the wall, kissing him. He's trying not to let months of frustration and longing and anger color it, because he'd rather deny them entirely, but there they are anyway, making his hands tighten in Arthur's hair, his lips press harder, in joy and punishment all at once. There's nothing apologetic about Arthur at all, just an air of we did that then, we're doing this now.
So Eames holds him down and fucks him, because it seems like the thing to do.
Afterward, Arthur is curled up next to him, unclothed and unembarrassed, sporting some truly impressive sex hair and a pensive smile. He's freshly inked, a symbol that Eames doesn't recognize traced delicately on his hip, its lines still bas-relief against his skin. Arthur shivers slightly when Eames circumnavigates it with a curious fingertip. "I thought you didn't want any more tattoos."
Arthur raises an eyebrow at him. "Who told you that?"
"In the bar," he says. Before you left me, you enormous prick, and what the hell was that, anyway? he doesn't add.
Arthur looks, for a moment, like he's going to deflect, pretend he doesn't remember; but then he sighs. "That isn't what I meant."
"Then I don't understand what you meant," Eames says, and he doesn't quite keep the mocking edge out of his tone.
Arthur doesn't speak at first; he rolls over, looking up at the ceiling, avoiding Eames's face entirely. "Maybe I don't want you underneath my skin."
Eames knows, in that instant, that that statement is the most honest thing that Arthur has ever said to him.
He pulls Arthur closer and whispers, "Too bad you've already got me."