Arthur should have known better than to go back to Seattle. He'd been avoiding it for nearly seven years now and, despite the fact that he'd missed it terribly, he'd done it to avoid situations exactly like the one he was about to find himself in.
Eames is, for once, completely unaware of the shit storm that is currently stalking towards them in skinny jeans, knee high leather boots and a red pea coat. He's still basking in the glow of a job well done and the warmth of his way too sweet (in Arthur's opinion) coffee while working out the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen. Arthur, however, usually sees things like this coming.
And he had, he realizes. Arthur had known this moment was coming even before he'd sat down at the corner booth with Eames to share the paper and a croissant. He'd known this moment was coming from the minute he agreed to come back to this city.
He just didn't realize how fucking scared of her he still was.
She comes to a stop at their table, eyebrows raised, cheeks flushed from the cold. Arthur licks his lips and sets his cup down, inwardly counting it a win when it doesn't clatter against the saucer.
He looks up at her and tries to give her the same "don't fuck with me" grin he likes to use on marks, Eames, projections and, occasionally, Ariadne when she's being particularly earnest.
By the look on her face, it's not working. (It never works on Eames, either, come to think of it.)
Arthur clears his throat and, Eames, who so far had been engrossed in number seven down, looks up and seems to take the newcomer in stride.
God, Arthur really doesn't want to be doing this. Not now, not in front of Eames. Not ever, actually.
He takes a deep breath and says, "Good to see you, Kat. Been awhile."
Arthur watches Eames eat his piece of red velvet cake with something he thinks is probably akin to wonder. He turns then, to look at Kat, sitting across from them in the kitchen of the small carpenter style house she shares with her husband. He has so many things to say to her, so many questions swirling around in his head. He can't believe Kat Stratford is married and a homeowner. Although, if Arthur's honest with himself, this house is so very Kat: it's lived in, with a little bit of a hippy vibe, the exterior a cheery reddish color with dark green trim.
"I can't believe you bake," Arthur blurts out, which is probably -- no, definitely not what he wanted to say. He knows he needs to apologize for falling out of their lives years ago but it was easier (for him) and safer (for them). Not that he can tell Kat that.
Although he has a distinct feeling she just knows.
She lets out a tiny chuckle, visibly trying to hold on to her anger at Arthur, and sets her cup of tea down. "I bake when I'm upset. Unfortunately, that," she points at the cake on its glass pedestal, "is the only thing I know how to make."
Arthur finds himself grinning at that. "We really don't mean to impose on you, Kat, I mean, we have a perfectly adequate suite downtown and I --"
Eames, who has thoroughly devoured his piece and is now eyeing Arthur's, interrupts him.
"Ah, yes. About that suite, Arthur. It seems I may have called and had them send our bags post haste to our current location." When Arthur just stares at him, Eames slides his eyes once towards Kat, quickly, before saying, "It seemed prudent."
Kat snorts and gets up, heading over to the counter and cutting another slice of cake, which she sits in front of Eames. She then looks pointedly at Arthur as she sits back down.
"I like him, Cameron," she says, with a nod of her head towards Eames.
Eames grins and Arthur rolls his eyes. "He's going to be insufferable now," Arthur mutters.
Eames' grin widens and he nudges Arthur's knee with his under the table. "I thought I already was, love. At least that's what you like to tell me at least three times a week."
He shifts his chair a bit further to his left then, leaning on his elbow and smiling charmingly at Kat. "Now, Ms. Stratford, I've been dying of curiosity. Just how is it that you know our dear Arthur here? And why on Earth do you keep referring to him as Cameron?"
"Why on Earth do you keep referring to him as Arthur?" Kat asks, smirking.
Eames gives her that, laughing. "Well, my dear Ms. Stratford --"
"Call me Kat, please."
"Kat, of course." Eames winks at Arthur before continuing. "Kat, the reason I call Arthur Arthur is because I was always under the assumption that was his name. But," he pauses to look at Arthur, eyebrow raised, "apparently I was mistaken."
Arthur clears his throat a little gruffly. "Um, well, not really. Arthur is my name. Just not my first name. It's my middle name. I went by my first name in high school and college, when I knew Kat."
Eames eyes positively light up at the words "high school" falling from Arthur's lips. He turns, almost sharply, and begs of Kat, "Oh, Kat, Kat, you must tell me all about dear Cameron when he was just a young student."
Kat grins widely at Arthur and Arthur wants to nothing more than to sink down into the nicely tiled floor under his feet. "Oh, well, I didn't meet Arthur until late in my senior year when he started dating my baby sister. Well, after some very inventive scheming and manipulating."
Eames is hanging on her every word. Arthur wants to dismember both of them but instead settles for staring mutely at the table and idly pushing his cake around on his plate with the fork.
"Manipulative scheming? At such a tender age?" Eames winks at him. "Why Arthur, I am shocked."
Kat shrugs. "I can't say I ever really held it against him. It all ended up alright in the end. Cameron and Bianca ended up dating for a few years, broke up amicably when Cameron had his big gay realization, and then stayed friends after. And, well." Her cheeks flush pink and Arthur tilts his head, wondering what could make Kat blush like that after all this time. "He did, in a sense, fix me up with the man I ended up marrying."
It's Arthur's turn to be shocked.
"You married Patrick Verona?!"
Kat laughs and nods. "I ran into him at this art show after I moved back home, after I finished my masters." At Arthur's look, she sighs. "I know, I know. Seattle's home. I love the east coast but I never realized how much I missed this stupid place until I was gone for years and years. Plus, it didn't hurt that my dad had just retired to Florida and Bianca ended up in New York."
Arthur takes a sip of coffee, folds his arms on the table in front of him. "She's in New York? How did Bianca end up in New York?"
"She fell in love with the city when her and I took a trip there in my senior year of college. You remember that -- it was," her voice wavers just a little, but Arthur notices. "It was right before the last time you came to visit, back in '03."
Arthur nods, regret, an unwelcome and unfamiliar emotion, welling up in his chest. "Kat, listen, you know I --"
She cuts him off with a wave of his hand. "I know, Cameron, I know. Just -- it would've been nice to know you were alive the past seven years." Kat takes a deep breath and a sip of her tea. "Anyway, water under the bridge now. You're here and don't think for a minute I am letting you pull that disappearing act again."
She levels a stare on him that makes Arthur quake just a bit in his custom made Italian loafers. He's about to answer when Eames breaks in and Arthur's a little startled, having almost forgotten his presence in the act of reminiscing and remembering his former life.
"Don't you worry, Ms. Stratford. I won't let him lose touch again."
"See that you don't, Mr. Eames," she answers. She turns back to Arthur then. "So, come on. Tell me what you've been up to. Or would you have to kill me then?"
Arthur half-grins. "Something like that. I'm in the... private sector now but it's still all very cloak and dagger."
Kat pointedly looks at his bespoke suit and his expensive shoes with raised brows. "I doubt the 'private sector' is any safer but it's nice to see that it obviously pays more than when you were in the military."
Arthur clears his throat and takes another sip of coffee. He avoids looking at Eames' shit-eating grin and says, "A little better, yeah." He tamps down on the urge to pinch Eames under the table and quickly changes the subject. "So where's Patrick? Will he be home soon?"
Kat frowns a little, eyes downcast. "No, he's overseas visiting relatives. I couldn't go with him because I'm in the middle of working on my Ph.D. Well, that and someone had to watch the shop."
"The shop?" Arthur prompts.
Kat grins, eyes lighting up with pleasure. "Yeah, Patrick owns this record shop. Well, technically, I'm part-owner now, too, but it's so amazing. You'll have to come see it before you leave."
Arthur's about to agree, curiosity piqued, when the doorbell rings. Kat excuses herself and Arthur turns to meet Eames' gaze.
"My dear, dear Arthur," he says, mischief twinkling in his eyes. "We are going to have a long, long talk about your manipulative, scheming self later." He stops then, eyes going wide with sudden realization. It's an expression that terrified Arthur. "Oh. Please tell me there are pictures of you at a young tender age perhaps somewhere in this house."
Arthur rolls his eyes and nudges Eames' leg rather roughly with his. "Possibly, but I will burn them all if you go looking for them and then Kat will have to kill me. And I'm more scared of her than of you, you know."
Eames laughs at that, leaning back in his chair a little.
"Come on, Arthur, you can at least give me some details. I know very little about your life before we met. You have to understand why I'm so thrilled we ran into Ms. Stratford today."
Arthur sighs, knowing Eames is right and hating it. "Alright, fine." He hears the front door close and points a finger at Eames as he hears Kat coming back down the hall. "But I still say no to the pictures."
Eames sighs but nods, obviously reluctant to agree, just as Kat comes back into the room, informing them of their luggage's arrival.
After dinner and some more cake, they retire to their guest room while Kat holes up in her office to work. Eames is already showered and waiting in bed when Arthur comes out of the bathroom, toweling his hair dry, dreading the upcoming conversation.
He crawls into bed with Eames and rests his head on Eames, reading his book over his shoulder. Arthur snorts.
"Really, Eames? The Feminine Mystique?"
Eames shrugs and closes the book, dislodging Arthur as he turns to put the book on the night stand. "It was here and I got bored waiting for you. I still don't understand why we couldn't shower together. Not like it would be the first time."
Arthur scowls a little and sighs, settling back against the headboard. "I just -- it would feel weird, in Kat's -- I just can't, Eames, I'm sorry."
Eames sighs himself, echoing Arthur, and then says, "Well, if you want to make it up to me, you could tell me about you and the lovely Katarina and her sister."
"Fine. What do you want to know?"
Eames rolls onto his side and gives Arthur a disarming grin. "Everything."
Arthur sighs and tells him everything. Much later, he finishes his tale by relaying the end of his entanglement in the lives of the Stratford sisters -- at least until today.
"I dropped out of college in 2002 and, despite Bianca and Kat's very loud protests, I joined the army. My dad was, of course, ecstatic." Arthur pauses, picking at the edge of the duvet. "It wasn't ideal, mainly because, as Kat loved to remind me constantly, I was basically hiding who I was." Eames doesn't say anything, hasn't said much at all, really and Arthur continues, clearing his throat. "Shortly after boot camp, I got recruited into the dream sharing program and the rest, as they say, is history. I saw Kat and Bianca in the spring of that year and then... I just, I sort of just stopped making contact."
Arthur shrugs. "It wasn't long after that when I left the military and started working in extraction. You know the rest."
Eames nods, hand on Arthur's stomach, fingers tracing imaginary lines against the skin there. "Kat and Bianca meant a lot to you."
Arthur nods, too tired to try and hide anything from Eames, not that he ever can anyway. "I never really got along with my family. At least Kat and Bianca liked me for who I was."
Eames wraps his arm around Arthur's waist and pulls, leering. "I like you for who you are, too, Arthur." He waggles his brows and Arthur snorts, playfully pushing at his shoulder, grateful for Eames in a way he doesn't think he could ever express.
"You, sir, are incorrigible."
Eames nods, tone mock-serious when he answers, "So you tell me, love."
Arthur rolls his eyes. "Turn off the light, Mr. Eames. It's been a long day."
It's quiet after Eames has turned off the lamp, the only light coming from a street lamp outside as they get settled under the covers. Arthur is almost asleep when Eames whispers, "So the pictures are still a no then?"
Arthur is silent for several moments before mumbling from where he has his face mashed into the pillow, "No."
Eames sighs quietly before whispering, "What about sex?"
Arthur doesn't answer him in words but he does make sure to steal all the covers.
Two months later, when they're working a job in Luxembourg with Ariadne and Cobb, Arthur isn't surprised at all to walk into the abandoned office they're using as headquarters to find hideous pictures of himself from his youth plastered to everything stationary. He sighs and starts the business of taking them down.
When Eames comes in, late as always, even though Arthur knows he's been up just as long as Arthur has (only because Arthur was the one to wake Eames and is every morning), Arthur just gives him a look and says, "I knew Kat giving you her e-mail address was a bad idea."
Eames doesn't even bother to look ashamed.