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Kiss Me, Kill Me

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Mr Eames has a problem. It’s a maddening and raven haired and ridiculously attractive problem. It’s also a stick-in-the-mud OCD control freak whose favourite pastimes include tidying, infuriating Eames and shooting people. It’s a problem Eames finds stupidly sexy. Arthur is kind of – fairly – well, completely not the kind of person Eames goes for, and he’s pretty sure the feeling’s mutual. They’re opposites. Like a good twin and an evil twin, though that’d be kind of incestuous. They quarrel, they clash, they can’t stand each other. But Eames sort of maybe really wants to fuck him.

The thing about Arthur is, he has to be in control. He needs it, or he’ll fall apart. Eames wants to get under his skin, to smash that perfect glass box of self-discipline and watch the ever-expressionless bastard freak out as it shattered around him. Problem is, Eames can only think of two ways of doing that. The first is to get him hot and gasping underneath him, grabbing and grasping, groaning for more. The other is to annoy the hell out of him. Eames choses the latter. He’s not particularly skilled in the art of seduction (he’d not like to admit it, but it’s been a while), but the art of irritation – well, he has far more practice at that.

It’s a simple enough plan: exasperate Arthur into bed. Or, more likely, into insanity. Or an early grave. OK, Eames doesn’t think it’s a good plan. But he never expects to succeed. He gets by annoying Arthur. He gets off on it. It’s probably really sick and weird and unhealthy but he keeps on getting left alone with him and he is ridiculously attractive and it really has been a while and if Eames is going to get frustrated every day then fuck, Arthur is too.

But we’d better begin at the beginning, because that’s when stories start.

 

Eames meets Arthur in a bar in Amsterdam. Cobb’s got a job proposal for him and of course Eames is going to take it, even though they’re working in some dingy rented office space above a grocer’s, even though it means three more months in Amsterdam, even though it’s a bitter, bleak autumn, even though Cobb’s nearly got him killed before – he needs the money. Cobb’s taken his new point man along. And. Well. He’s handsome. Devilishly so. His hair’s black and slicked back, like a neat oil spill. His cheekbones are angular, his voice level, his handshake measured. He’s solid, sharp, slick. Eames at least tries, because he’s going to spend the next three months with this man and he’d like to do a little more besides just working for all that time and Arthur really is handsome and Eames could do with a bit of fun. So he smiles, he jokes, he’s charming. Arthur’s too cold, polite enough, barely interested. At the end of the meeting he just gets up and walks away.

“Pleasure to meet you,” he says, voice laced with condescension.

And Eames is annoyed. No-one can just resist his charm like that. How dare Arthur be distant and disinterested. Eames decides there and then that he does not like him and he never will.

 

Arthur must have made a similar decision because he shoots him the next day. They’re doing a training exercise but they get so up each other’s noses that Arthur just pulls out his gun and has done with it twenty minutes in. It’s a simple exercise: acclimatising themselves to working with one another’s subconscious. They’re in a city, and it’s Eames’ dream so of course it’s a bit crazy, a lively mishmash of old and new. They walk past a cathedral looming above them, great and gothic, a tiny bungalow with a neat front garden, a modern art gallery cutting into the sky.

“My God,” says Arthur, looking at the odd world around him.

“What? What is it?”

“Your projections are as badly-dressed as you are.”

Eames rolls his eyes.

“No, seriously,” Arthur goes on, “Your mind is not somewhere I want to be. Who puts a Victorian train station next to a Norman castle and PC World? And is that a sex shop?”

“Oh yes,” Eames remembers, smiling.

Arthur gives him a searching look, as if he’s utterly insane.

“You don’t want to go in there,” Eames adds ominously.

“What is this?” Arthur asks, gesticulating towards the whole world, “It’s so… disordered.”

Eames shrugs.

“I like it.”

He likes the messiness, the colours, the liveliness. He also likes how it offends Arthur’s desperately conservative taste.

“I knew there was something about you I didn’t like,” Arthur says.

“There’s a lot about you I don’t like.”

Arthur hums haughtily.

“You seemed quite friendly last night.”

“Yes, well,” Eames says, cheerfully dismissive, “That was before I realised you were a prick.”

Arthur laughs, short and sarcastic.

“Don’t you think I mean it?” Eames says snappily, “Because I do. Really, I think you’re a complete, utter, top-notch prick.”

Arthur just smirks knowingly.

“What?” Eames demands.

“I think someone’s hurt that I’m not interested in them.”

And Eames wants to hit him then, really he does, because he doesn’t like him and he’s a dick and he’s right about Eames and that doesn’t happen often, being seen through so quickly. But he doesn’t hit him, not just yet.

“You’re really not my type, darling,” he says.

“The feeling is mutual,” says Arthur, looking in distaste at the people walking past him.

Eames fumes silently as they walk through the city, all village post offices and council flats and trees and factories and English country houses, and it’s obvious that Arthur hates it, and what right does he have to judge him, how can he just come into his life and be so cold and contemptuous and superior. He’s not even that handsome now he really looks at him, he’d thought he was, but really he’d just wanted to fuck someone, and Arthur just happened to be there, and he’s glad he didn’t get involved now that he knows what a twat he is, he’d rather be as chaste as a bloody nun than be with him, and that’s quite a strong oath coming from Eames, because he’s normally willing to fuck most people, not that he’s a whore or anything. Well, maybe a bit. But a guy can’t help it if he’s bloody gorgeous, can he? Anyway, Arthur, he hates Arthur, he thinks he is a dreadful person, remember that Eames.

“I can’t decide if I want to rearrange this place, or just get the hell out of it,” Arthur remarks, and Eames snaps.

“Let me help you decide,” he says, and punches him.

He manages to shove him up against the wall, which is completely not sexual at all, and he’s about to cut him up, or at least attempt to, when Arthur takes a gun out of his suit and shoots him in the chest. Eames chokes, shocked, staring at the red stain blossoming across his shirt, and fuck, he’s dying, he’s actually dying, only it’s not real but it fucking feels real, he’ll never get used to it, and Arthur killed him, he just killed him. What a bitch. That’s Eames’ last thought, because then he collapses against the wall, and dies.

“If only I could get rid of you this easily in real life,” says Arthur, as Eames slumps to the ground.

When he wakes up, Eames is furious. He’s not one to just let things lie, (which, if he thinks about it, is probably why Arthur killed him in the first place), and that smug git is not going to just kill him and walk away without serious punishment. Arthur wakes up when Eames shoves him backwards off his chair. Needless to say, he is not well pleased.

“The fuck?”

He locks his eyes onto Eames with almost Biblical fury.

“Eames!”

“Yes?”

“You pushed me over!” he says indignantly.

“You killed me!” Eames says, somewhat more indignantly.

“Ah, fuck, my arm, Eames. It fucking hurts.”

“Oh yeah, getting shot through the heart, that’s not at all painful.”

“You’re still alive,” Arthur retorts, rubbing his arm, “Unfortunately.”

“If I have to work with you any longer, I think I might just kill myself anyway.”

“I wouldn’t be complaining.”

Eames thinks Arthur isn’t aware of what an utter prick he is, and he’s just about to deal with that problem physically when Cobb walks in. By that point Eames is standing over Arthur, about two seconds away from laying into him. Arthur doesn’t look too concerned about this. That annoys Eames.

“Everything alright?” he asks, as if he doesn’t already know the answer.

“What does it look like?” Arthur says flatly.

Cobb raises his eyebrows.

“It looks…” he begins, “Not very professional.”

Arthur looks concerned about this.

“What?” he says, his voice hard and heavy.

“Hey, it doesn’t matter that you’re… like that,” Cobb hesitates, holding up his hands, “But we are on a job. And I know that sounds hypocritical, because that’s how I met Mal, but…”

Arthur’s eyes tell the story of Dom Cobb’s tragic sudden death.

“You think I’m fucking him?” he says, gesturing towards Eames with evident disgust.

“What?” Eames catches on.

“Exactly,” says Arthur, and wait, are they actually agreeing on something? “I’m not desperate.”

Turns out they’re not agreeing anymore.

“Oh yes, because you’re obviously getting some.”

Eames, I am going to –”

“OK,” Cobb says, interrupting Arthur before he can tell Eames what he’s going to do to him (and probably not in the fun, sex-based way), “You know what, I’m going to go now. So can you just – please finish whatever it is you’re doing by the time I’m back?”

He backs out of the room, Eames and Arthur hurling angry words after him. The door slams shut.

“Well, fuck this,” says Eames.

Arthur is staring at him as if he’s just leant over and licked his neck – and why the fuck is that the first thing that comes to mind?

“What?” says Eames.

Arthur punches him.

 

Cobb comes back over an hour later. He’s phoned Mal and told her the job’s going fine, how’s the baby, he misses her, he’ll be back soon. His colleagues don’t notice him as he slips in. They’re both suspiciously dishevelled. Arthur’s hair is unkempt because Eames decided it looked fucking stupid scraped back and shoved a hand into it. Eames’ shirt is torn, because it offended Arthur’s eyes to have pink paisley that close to him and he never wanted to see it again. Arthur’s got a bruise on his neck because Eames is a bastard and he did that just to annoy him and he didn’t enjoy it at all, really, he didn’t. They’re both slumped against the wall, silent, surrounded by debris. It’s strangely intimate, considering they’ve just been beating the shit out of each other.

Eames looks sidelong at Arthur.

“I fucking hate you,” says Arthur.

And he smiles. Eames never forgets that, the first time Arthur smiles at him. It’s all sharp edges and numbed anger and maybe something fond.

“Oh darling,” says Eames, “I hate you too.”

And his voice is too soft and Arthur’s eyes are too soft and they’re just sitting there looking at each other like it means something but they don’t know what yet.

It takes them a while to figure it out.

 

They start work on the job. Arthur rakes through the mark’s history like the impeccably dressed stalker he is, and Eames follows the mark around like the atrociously dressed stalker he is. And Cobb builds an imaginary world like a crazy old guy who smells odd and believes he’s the Prime Minister. It’s a happy enough existence.

Eames and Arthur make an agreement: no violence whilst the job is on. It’s partly to do with creating a positive working relationship, but mostly because Eames has spent the past few days complaining about the damage to various parts of his anatomy and the satisfaction of socking him really isn’t worth enduring the whining afterwards. Also because Cobb gives him these looks whenever Eames says something like, “Oh fuck, Arthur, how did you do that to my back?” or “God, you don’t go easy on a man, do you?” or “That bruise on your neck is the most wonderful green, you know.”

They do both keep to their agreement – well, apart from that one time, but Eames really should have seen it coming and Arthur can’t be expected to stop himself from reflexively taking action against a tie that hideous. It’s only three months of abstinence, after all. But not fighting doesn’t stop them from warring. Eames does what he knows best, and winds Arthur up like a clockwork toy he’s playing with. And Arthur, wonderfully tetchy stick-in-the-mud Arthur, always rises to the bait. There are days when Eames is annoying and tiresome and just maddening, and Arthur hates him. And there are days when Eames is sweet and charming and just Eames, and Arthur loves him. But there’s not so many of them.

 

“Eames, what the fuck have you done to me?”

Eames bites on the end of his pen, not looking up from his work.

“What’s that?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know, fucking look at me.”

Eames turns around in his chair, unsuccessfully attempting not to smile as he looks at Arthur.

“What?” he asks, because if he says more than one syllable he is going to laugh and that could be very dangerous with Arthur in this mood.

“What do you mean, ‘What?’ I am fucking covered in pen!”

“Oh, that.”

Arthur’s glare would be terrifying, if he didn’t have I’m a twat written on his forehead. Eames had seen Arthur asleep in his chair, dreaming, and taken full advantage of the situation. He is an opportunist, after all.

“Well, won’t it wash off?” says Eames unhelpfully, “It’s only pen.”

“It’s fucking marker pen, Eames, it doesn’t come off!”

“Well that’s unfortunate.”

“Yes it is, Eames, it is very unfortunate, because I am going out tonight and it means you have to die.”

Eames’ eyes widen.

“Really?” he splutters, “Oh fuck, I didn’t know – you’re actually – going out – oh God, that is just hilarious…”

He breaks down laughing, because he actually has perfect timing and this is the funniest thing to happen since forever, and Arthur’s probably going to kill him in a minute so he might as well enjoy this while he can.

“Don’t worry, darling. If she loves you, I’m sure she’ll accept you as you are,” Eames says, because he doesn’t value his life.

“It’s a business meeting, not a – a date or something.”

“Oh yes, I forgot you weren’t getting any.”

“Someday, I am going to kill you, Mr Eames,” Arthur growls, stalking off to the bathroom.

“You already did that, remember?”

He comes back half an hour later, his forehead red-raw.

 

He doesn’t find the rest of it until the next day. Arthur storms into the office, tearing off his jacket and throwing his suitcase down on the desk.

“Hello, Arthur,” says Eames cheerily, sipping from his tea.

“Why did you draw sexual positions on my thighs?”

Eames blinks.

“Good morning to you too.”

“I mean seriously. That is not the kind of thing I want to find when I take off my pants.”

It takes Eames a moment to realise that Arthur means trousers, and isn’t just randomly talking about his underwear. Because that would be kind of weird, and now Eames is thinking about Arthur taking off his pants and what the actual hell.

“It took me forty-five minutes to get them off,” Arthur rants.

“The drawings or the trousers?” Eames smirks, and takes another swig of tea.

Arthur leans angrily across his desk.

“My body is my fucking property, Eames, not something for you to play with for your amusement.”

Eames chokes on his tea. He’s sure that Arthur didn’t mean that to sound so wrong. Almost definitely.

“Never go near my thighs again. You hear me?”

Eames swallows.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he says, because his brain is screaming innuendos at him and Arthur’s angry and there’s something brilliant about that.

“Erm, good morning everyone,” says Cobb, who looks like he’s slightly disturbed but trying to conceal the fact with a smile that’s so strained it’s really creepy.

He looks from Arthur to Eames, and Arthur doesn’t look sexually aggressive in this position, and the lines under his eyes don’t look like he’s spent the last three nights having particularly energetic sex, no, not at all.

“I’m going to make some coffee,” he says, but his voice is stilted as he shuffles into the kitchen.

Arthur groans.

“Cobb still thinks we’re fucking and it’s all your fault.”

Part of Eames wants to say If I fuck you will you get over it? and another part of him is just going Are you actually contemplating fucking Arthur? and the first part of him is replying Fuck yes, and it’s pretty weird that he’s having a conversation with himself but nothing is really making much sense anymore so he just rolls with it.

Then Arthur sighs and looks up and says quietly, “Eames?”

“Yes?”

“You know… that thing… that you drew… above my left knee?” he whispers uneasily, drawing closer to him.

Eames tries to remember what exactly he put there. Then he remembers and well.

“Oh, er, yes?”

“Is that even possible?” Arthur asks, “I mean, can you actually do that?”

Eames takes a breath.

“Yes.”

“Oh,” says Arthur, short and open.

“Uhm, hey, we’ve run out of milk,” Cobb says, sticking his head out of the kitchen.

Eames sincerely doubts this.

“I’ll go get some,” says Arthur, pushing himself up off the desk.

“Thanks.”

The door clicks shut behind Arthur. It’s only five minutes later that Eames realises his phone is missing.

“Son of a bitch,” he mutters under his breath.

But he’s smiling.

 

Arthur sends the text when he’s in the queue for the milk. He scrolls down the address book in Eames’ phone, and he’s going to send it to one of his business associates, because that would be very unkind and Arthur is not feeling very kind towards Eames. But then he sees a contact named only Darling, so he decides to send it to whoever she is. Well, she or he. Arthur doesn’t know what floats Eames’ boat, but he certainly does seem to be thoroughly knowledgeable about a wide range of positions, and that should not be at all sexy but it kind of really is. He buys the milk and tries to forget that he just used the words sexy and Eames in the same sentence.

 

When he gets back, he brushes past Eames, slipping the phone back into his pocket.

“Oh thank you, I was wondering where that was,” Eames says with a small smile, “You know, I think you left yours on the desk by the way.”

Arthur considers breaking their agreement and punching him in his stupid face, just to get that smug expression off it.

“Oh darling, you look very tense,” says Eames, because Arthur thinks he can hide it when he’s angry but he really can’t, and Eames puts a hand on his shoulder that’s probably meant to be comforting but really isn’t.

And then something clicks in Arthur’s mind – a terrible, excruciating possibility – and he grabs his phone from the desk. 1 New Message. Arthur reads it.

Eames, 10.05am
Hello darling, I just realized that my clothes are hideous, would you mind terribly getting me out of them? ;) xxx

Eames leans over his shoulder and grins.

“I knew you weren’t getting any, Arthur, but this is verging on desperate.”

Arthur treats Eames to an expression that can only be described as incandescent rage.

“You listed me as Darling on your phone?”

“You sent yourself a sext from my phone?”

“That is not important,” says Arthur, even though that does sound a bit weird when Eames puts it like that, “Because, Darling? Really?”

“It suits you,” says Eames, touching him under the chin.

Arthur wants something, anything to take him away from this infuriating, ridiculous, silly man. But he’s already got through one month with him and he does need to help Cobb out and he doesn’t give up and just walk out on a job. And, for some reason, he is more than a little fond of Eames. So he stays.

 

Eames texts Arthur after that. Turns out he has unlimited texts and too much spare time on his hands, and it’s an incurably annoying combination.

Eames, 02.14pm
just saw 2 pigeons mating outside the window, it made me think of you xx

Eames, 02.17pm
just wondering, could your suits get any tighter? gives me a great view of your backside xx

Eames, 02.18pm
oh fuck theres 3 of them now

Eames, 02.20pm
things are getting pretty involved over here

Eames, 02.22pm
arthur i am too aroused by this

Eames, 02.23pm
but not as aroused as i am by you of course ;) xx

Arthur, 02.24pm
Eames. Stop. I know you don’t mean that.

Eames, 02.25pm
im sure i can persuade you otherwise… ;) xxx

Arthur stops replying pretty quickly. It only encourages him.

 

Arthur loves paradoxes. He loves the complexity, the intricacy. He loves understanding and constructing something perfect. His sketchbooks are full of them, neat notes and detailed diagrams and precise plans. He thinks they’re beautiful. Eames doesn’t. He thinks they’re the most boring, overcomplicated, tortuous, hateful things ever to be created by man, except possibly Arthur. But he likes peeking over Arthur’s shoulder to snatch a glance at his sketchbook, because it’s like suddenly seeing into his devastatingly logical mind. It also really pisses him off. One day Arthur leaves his book open on his desk and Eames pores over its pages like a holy text, because it’s something strange, something indescribable, something he doesn’t understand. Something like Arthur. There’s triangles. Triangles within triangles within triangles, a great pyramid of intersecting lines, each one cutting into the other, and he grasps at a sense of limitlessness, of endlessness.

“Don’t touch what isn’t yours, Eames,” Arthur says curtly.

Eames looks straight at him.

“You’re amazing,” he says.

He means it.

Chapter Text

“Bad day?” asks Eames, emerging from the kitchen with a mug – Arthur’s mug, to be precise.

Bad day is something of an understatement. Arthur’s slumped in Eames’ chair, quietly contemplating his insatiable loathing for the world and everything in it. He’s spent about a week being pissed off about the way that he’s getting nowhere with the job, and the way that Cobb is getting all worried about just getting a stupid fucking security guard to keep the office safe while they’re all asleep because he thinks he’ll smell a rat and they’ll get found out, and the way that Eames has been playing truly dreadful music on the conked-out stereo he’s hooked up to the mains with duct tape alone, which is probably a health and safety hazard but it might electrocute Eames someday and then that’d show him. Or kill him. He’s quite content with either of those options.

“Can’t find mine,” Eames explains, happening to notice Arthur staring at his mug with unabated fury.

“That doesn’t mean you can spread your saliva all over mine.”

“Believe me, there are plenty of other things I’d rather cover in my saliva, and they all belong to you.”

Arthur gives him a look that could make the angels weep and says, “You disgust me.”

Eames winks, perching himself on the edge of his desk.

“You love it.”

That catches Arthur off guard, and he can’t think of anything to say.

“Come on, darling. What’s wrong?”

Arthur groans tortuously, raking a hand through his hair so it sticks up.

“Everything is shit.”

“I was hoping for a little… specificity.”

“I hate this,” Arthur rants, “I hate this job, I hate this city, I hate this office, I hate you –”

“Alright, alright, I get the picture.”

“No you don’t. You can’t possibly comprehend the depth of shit everything is in, you don’t…”

Eames sets his mug – actually, Arthur’s mug – down.

“You’re so tense,” he says.

It sounds like a corny line from a nineties romcom. Or a porno.

“Of course I’m tense, didn’t you notice, everything is sh–”

Arthur stops talking then, because Eames has just put his hands on him. He massages Arthur’s shoulders, hands huge and heavy.

“Oh, ah, fuck…” Arthur whimpers, all incoherent and inarticulate.

It occurs to him that this is the most sex he’s had in, what, six months, no, eight, oh fuck, a year at least.

“You sound absolutely wanton,” says Eames.

“I’m not –” Arthur objects, but then Eames kneads his shoulders hard, and Arthur’s reduced to a jibbering heap again, and Eames really needs to do this more often, just to make him make those noises, because they are the filthiest things he’s ever heard, and it’s Arthur, for God’s sake, and if he can take him apart like this he is bloody well going to.

“Fuck, that’s, oh shit, Eames…”

Arthur has no idea how he’s managed to go from a concentrated mass of stress to a blathering wreck in the space of about a minute. Jesus Christ, he is making Eames do this again. Amongst other things.

And then there’s a knock on the door.

“Er, hey, it’s me,” Cobb calls from outside, “I’ve just come to show Sam in. From security? Um, we’ll give you a few minutes, to er, yeah.”

That rather kills the mood.

Eames,” Arthur hisses, “How do you do this? Now everyone thinks we’re shagging and it’s your fucking fault!”

“My fault? I wasn’t the one making the orgasmic groans!”

“They were not orgas–” Arthur begins, but he trails off into a moan because Eames is pressing down on his shoulders.

Aa-ahh…” he gasps, and if anything sounds like a climax, that certainly does.

He manages to shove Eames off and hurries to the office door.

Fuck you, Eames,” he spits.
“Again?”

Arthur picks up a pen from the desk and throws it at him, rather ineffectually. Eames just laughs, and Arthur is going to deal with him later, and yes, deal with him is a metaphor for repeatedly stabbing him with that pen, and that in turn is not a metaphor for sex, even if it does include phallic imagery and penetration, and seriously what the fuck, things are getting pretty freaky so Arthur just opens the office door because facing Cobb and this security guy seems better than being alone in a room with Eames for a few more minutes. Cobb’s standing a good few metres away from the door next to a burly skinhead who looks both terrifying and intensely awkward. Cobb seems less perturbed, as if he’s already resigned himself to the inevitability of this situation.

“We weren’t doing anything,” Arthur says quickly.

The security guard blinks, Cobb raises an eyebrow, and Arthur thinks he can hear Eames snickering quietly. He tries to feel indignant about the fact that no-one believes him, but he can’t deny that those groans were kind of orgasmic, and his shirt is a bit dishevelled, and his hair is ruffled, and he does sound more than a little over defensive.

“Sam, this is Arthur,” Cobb says, trying to maintain some sense of normality.

Arthur holds out his hand to Sam. Sam just looks at it and looks up at him and blinks.

“Sam Willard,” he says, his voice gravelly.

It takes Arthur a second to realise why he’s not shaking his hand.

“Come in,” he says, pulling his hand back and withdrawing into the office.

Sam smiles at him as he walks in, and it’s the kind of smile you would give someone who you’d just overheard having sex.

“So, uh, you got a hot secretary here or somethin’?” Sam asks, winking, “Good-lookin’ bird, ya know what I mean?”

Eames pops up, strolling over to Arthur’s side.

“No he doesn’t,” he says blithely, “Just me.”

Sam tries not to look surprised, but he can’t quite manage it.

“I hate you,” Arthur murmurs as Eames slides an arm round his waist.

But he doesn’t pull away.

 

Later on, Cobb gives them a little talk on professionalism. Arthur tries to protest but Eames just says, “I think you’ve made enough noise for one day, darling.”

 

Truth is, Eames is bored. He’s bored and he doesn’t like Amsterdam, he doesn’t like working in a dingy office, doesn’t like sleeping in a dingy room in the red light district above some hooker’s and hearing noises every fucking night which only make him think it’s been a while, Eames as he lies awake. It also makes him think about Arthur but he’s not going to look too deeply into that. Cobb gives them Sundays off. Sunday’s the worst day of the week, because Eames has nothing to do and that’s when he’s most self-destructive. He wants to go out, wants to drink, to get laid, to gamble, but that’s the reason why he needs the money, that’s the reason why he’s even here in the first place. Being sensible has never been easy for Eames.

He texts Arthur one Sunday morning, because Arthur is sensible, Arthur’s got self-control, and maybe that’s what Eames needs right now. Of course that means that, on some level, Eames needs Arthur. That seems so pathetic.

But, truth is, Arthur is bored. He’s bored, and Cobb’s staying in an apartment opposite his, but he’s not exactly a bundle of laughs at the best of times, and he wants another human being to talk to, but he’s too proud to give in and text Eames. But that would mean that he needs Eames, and that seems so pathetic, it can’t be true.

They’re both pretty pathetic. But Eames can accept that. It’s not like he’s got that great an opinion of himself anyway. (Apart from his looks, because really, he’s bloody gorgeous.)

Eames, 10.43am
good morning darling, hope you slept well xx

Arthur, 10.46am
Well I was sleeping until you woke me up just now. Thanks for that.

Eames, 10.47am
im sorry, but ive had about 2hrs sleep & i am so tired & bored arthur :( xx

Arthur, 10.49am
What do you want me to do, sing you to sleep?

Eames, 10.50am
yes. or just amuse me. thats a better idea. xx

Arthur, 10.52am
Amuse you? Now why would I do that?

Eames, 10.53am
because admit it, youre just as bored as i am & you hate this stupid city xx

Arthur, 10.54am
14 Papenbroekssteeg. Come quickly.

Eames, 10.54am
ill be there in 5 xx

 

In the end, he gets there in ten minutes, and he runs the whole way.

“Oh God,” Arthur says, “I thought you weren’t coming.”

He looks – pleased to see him. Well. There’s a first. Eames smiles, panting.

“Come on, darling. You knew I couldn’t resist you.”

Arthur rolls his eyes.

“Get in here.”

 

They don’t have sex. The world doesn’t love Eames enough for that. Instead Arthur makes coffee while Eames sits on the couch and quietly exults in how clean everything is. It’s regimentally tidy, cleaned with military precision. It has large windows and white walls and there’s so much light, it’s like he’s in heaven or something, only Eames doesn’t think a crook like him will ever get there, and if he did there’d be so much fornication he’d probably get chucked out.

Arthur joins him on the couch, carrying two steaming mugs.

“What was that?” he asks.

“Huh?”

“You’ve been mumbling about fornication for the past few minutes.”

“Tired,” says Eames, grabbing a mug and gulping down the coffee.

“Careful, you’ll burn –”

“Shit, my tongue!”

Arthur gives him a told you so look, but Eames just shrugs.

“I’ll fall asleep on you if I don’t drink it now,” he says, taking another swig, eyes watering.

“Are you alright?” asks Arthur when he’s downed the whole mugful in practically one gulp, and this ability does not have possibilities, no, it doesn’t.

Eames’ eyes are wide and his hair’s sticking up and his clothes are crumpled and offensively awful. Arthur can’t decide if he looks more crazy or homeless.

“I’m good, well, I’m alright, well, of course I am, I’m with you.”

“I see the caffeine’s kicked in.”

“Are you drinking that?” asks Eames, seizing Arthur’s mug and draining it.

“Not anymore.”

“Augh, thank you,” says Eames, and the low groan he makes that is not orgasmic in any way kind of makes up for Arthur’s lack of coffee.

“Oh,” says Eames, putting the mugs down as he sits cross-legged on the couch, facing Arthur, “I have a really good idea, well, I have an idea, and I don’t know if you’d think it’s good, but I have it anyway, and I hope you let me do it.”

Arthur doesn’t know what this great idea is, but for some reason sex is the first thought that springs to mind.

“Oh?” he says, because he doesn’t trust himself to say more than one syllable at this moment in time.

“Can I have a shower? I’ve been washing in the sink for the last year, well it’s not been a year but it feels like that, and this place is so lovely Arthur. It’s so clean, and I really don’t feel clean, I feel so dirty, and not in a sexy way though maybe after I’ve had that shower I might because you’re here.”

“Yes, just have a shower,” says Arthur, practically shoving him towards the bathroom.

Which is how Eames ends up naked ten minutes after he walks into Arthur’s apartment.

 

He comes out of the shower, hot and damp, wearing just a towel tied round his waist. Arthur stares. He’s muscled, tattooed, tanned. He’s also not wearing anything, why is he not wearing anything, this issue needs to be addressed before Arthur does something he lives to regret, though he doubts he’d regret it when he looks at that.

“Alright?” Eames asks casually.

“Eames,” Arthur stammers, “Clothes.”

“Hmm?”

Clothes. Put some clothes on. Now.”

“I will when you’ve done enjoying the view.”

“I’m not enjoying any view, Eames.”

“Then put your tongue back in your mouth,” says Eames, smirking, “Or do something else with it.”

Arthur wants to kill him, but on the other hand, he does want to take him up on that offer. He concludes that he’s conflicted. This is not a very decisive conclusion.

His phone vibrates before he has the chance to re-evaluate his decision. It’s Cobb.

“Hello?” says Arthur.

“Arthur. I, um – I was going to come over, but, yeah, I won’t be a minute, don’t worry,” Cobb says tentatively.

Arthur’s not entirely sure what he’s saying. He’s mumbling and Arthur can’t really focus Eames is just standing there watching him, leaning against the kitchen worktop with what is almost certainly not come-to-bed eyes.

“What?” asks Arthur, “Sorry, what was that? Are you coming over?”

Eames shakes his head furiously.

No,” Cobb says quickly, “No no, don’t worry, I won’t intrude while you’re – busy.”

“I’m busy?”

“Well. Yes. I guess Eames is the naked man standing in your kitchen?”

Arthur re-evaluates his decision and finds that he does indeed want to kill Eames.

Shit,” he swears.

He runs to the window and yanks the curtains shut.

“He – he was just using my shower,” he explains.

It’s possibly the worst explanation of his life, apart from maybe There were people and they did things to me, but he really wants to put that night in New Mexico behind him.

“No, you, you don’t need to explain,” says Cobb in a tone of voice that’s somewhere between understanding and traumatised, “Just – have the mark’s credit history files for me tomorrow, will you?”

“Oh, I can give them to you today,” Arthur says, leaning against the wall and pinching the bridge of his nose, and why does the universe hate him, he doesn’t deserve this.

“No, no – you have your day off. It’s your free time, I shouldn’t have imposed.”

“It’s really no troub– aaah...”

Arthur gasps and fuck, he should never let Eames out of his sight, he’s a liability, because he’s snuck up behind him and is kissing his neck, and Arthur is on the phone to Dom bloody Cobb and this is so astoundingly embarrassing but holy shit it’s probably the single best thing that’s happened to him all year. Upon a second re-evaluation, Arthur decides to fuck him. Hard.

“It’s fine, really,” says Cobb, and Arthur isn’t even going to try to answer him now, “I’ll – see you tomorrow.”

Arthur hits the off button before he makes an exceptionally pornographic moan. Eames stops kissing him, and why has he stopped, that was fucking amazing.

“God, you really are desperate,” he says, and Arthur just knows he’s smirking, and he is not going to fuck anyone who’s a smug prick, so he pushes himself away from Eames and pretends to busy himself with his phone.

“Go put some clothes on,” he says disinterestedly, not even looking up from his phone.

“Go turn your phone on,” says Eames.

 

When he comes back Arthur’s working, fingers trailing over sheaves of paper and the keyboard of his laptop. He’s annoyed with Eames, and even more annoyed when he realises he’s wearing his jumper. Even if Arthur does never wear it, it’s the principle of the thing. It takes Eames half an hour to wheedle his way back into Arthur’s favour. It’s not long, and besides, he knows he’s going to win. Arthur wants him to.

 

They spend the rest of the day talking. They talk about how they met Cobb, how they got into this line of work, their lives before dreams. They make dinner, they eat it, they get out the wine, they talk. They both know it’s a mistake. Purposeless sex is one thing; building an actual relationship is another. Because spending the whole day with someone when you’re not shagging each other senseless is building a relationship.

Eames stays the night. He sleeps on the sofa. Arthur comes out of his bedroom the next morning to find he’s still there.

“Morning, darling,” Eames mumbles, rubbing his eyes sleepily.

Arthur makes coffee and perches on the end of the couch next to a semi-conscious Eames, and drinks it in silence with his fingers in his hair, Eames murmuring contentedly like a purring cat. And maybe it’s not so bad, falling, maybe it’s worth it, when you have this.

That’s when Arthur realises he’s falling in love with Eames.

That’s when Arthur realises he’s fucked.

 

Eames stays. They don’t say anything about it, he just… doesn’t leave. Arthur tells himself that it’s the last fortnight of the job anyway, that it’s just so Eames can get some sleep, that it doesn’t mean he can’t bear being alone in an empty apartment. And soon this will all be over and he’ll run away to one part of the world and Eames will run away to another and they won’t see each other again. This thing they have doesn’t even matter.

“Are you alright there?” Arthur asks, as Eames starts to settle himself down on the sofa for the tenth night in a row.

“I’m good, thanks,” Eames replies, grabbing the cushions and putting them on one end of the couch.

“That couch can’t be very comfortable, though.”

“It’s fine,” says Eames, spreading out the blanket, “Besides, where else am I going to sleep?”

Arthur doesn’t say anything. Eames turns around, smiling. Then he sees Arthur looking awkwardly at the floor and he stops smiling.

“Oh,” he says eventually.

Arthur bites his lip, because what is he doing, making an offer like that, what is he even thinking, how stupid can you get.

“Just forget it,” he says, a little too abruptly.

“No. I won’t.”

Eames catches his hand and pulls him closer, because is this it, is Arthur finally giving in, are they going to…?

Arthur…” he murmurs.

And Arthur can’t do this, he can’t. He pulls his hand away, and looks at Eames, his eyes cold.

“Go to sleep, Mr Eames.”

It’s a shame, Eames thinks that night, as he lies on the (really quite uncomfortable) sofa. He would have fucked him so gently. He sighs and wonders if he can get away with jerking off in Arthur’s house. In the end, he decides that that’s entering whole new levels of depraved. Still, it’s not like he’s got that great an opinion of himself anyway. Apart from his looks, because, well, he is bloody gorgeous.

“Fuck you, Arthur,” he whispers, and hopes he doesn’t dream about him tonight.

He does, of course.

 

The next morning is pretty awkward. Well, things are going to be awkward between two people who spent last night thinking of each other and touching themselves. They could have just done the traditional thing and had sex. And “Sorry I got jizz on your blanket,” isn’t exactly a great conversation starter. Arthur gets dressed and Eames has a shower and they manage to avoid each other but they have to come into contact at some point because they are kind of living in the same apartment.

Eames has been trying to think of something to say to Arthur but when he sees him making coffee in the kitchen, he forgets it. He just crosses the room and wraps his arms around Arthur’s waist and kisses an apology into his neck, because everyone has weak points and he knows now, that’s his. Arthur sighs and folds his arms, reluctant but won over. But why are they doing this, they aren’t even a couple, they haven’t even kissed, Eames only wanted sex in the first place and now he’s got some kind of fucked-up bond thing with this guy and he doesn’t even know what it is.

Because Eames can’t understand this, can’t understand Arthur, can’t understand himself. He normally goes with his first instinct but with Arthur it’s all wrong. It’s like he’s been broken. So he lets go of Arthur and Arthur gives him an are we friends again look and says, “Coffee?” and Eames smiles and nods even if he does prefer tea but he knows no American who can make a half-decent brew and this is what he and Arthur just do, it’s a habit they’ve got into now. And Arthur watches him and thinks that four days isn’t long enough to make someone fall in love with you.

 

Eames tries to assess the situation logically. It isn’t something he does often, which probably explains why he’s so bad at gambling. After serious deliberation he decides that he needs to get off with Arthur already. But he’s not too sure how to put that to him. “I’ve examined our circumstances from every possible angle and reached the conclusion that it is essential for us to fuck,” doesn’t quite do it. Honestly, that sounds like something Arthur would say. Actually, he wouldn’t say we should fuck. It’d be more like engage in sexual intercourse with me. Oh God, why does he like this guy again?

“Er, Eames?” Eames is suddenly aware of Cobb standing next to him, “I know that you and Arthur are, um, how do you say, fucking like rabbits, but the job’s on tomorrow, so if you could just focus on your work and not stare at Arthur, that’d be really great.”

 

On their last night before the job, Eames tries to seduce Arthur. Note the use of the word tries. He’s got a mental list of reasons as to why they should sleep together, including for the good of the nation and we owe it to the furtherment of sex (he doesn’t think they’re all good reasons) but the real reason is so I can just do this and then forget about you like I do with everyone else. He wants this to be over, he wants this to be sordid and worthless and unremarkable like all the other times he’s had sex.

“So,” Eames says, one arm slung round the back of the sofa and thus around Arthur, “Where are you going next?”

Arthur shrugs and takes another sip of wine.

“I don’t know.”

“Where do you like to be?” Eames asks, “No, let me guess. I bet you love New York. All those straight lines and rows.”

“You know me too well,” Arthur says ruefully, “Hmm, I bet you like… Paris?”

“I’ve never been.”

“Me neither.”

“I’d like to go sometime.”

“Me too.”

A we should go hangs in the air, but no-one cares to say it.

“Are you going to miss me?” Eames asks suddenly.

Arthur thinks about it, thinks about the annoying comments, the mess, the smiles, the mess, the touches, the snoring, the mess, and everything that’s so wonderfully Eames and yes, he’s going to miss it, he’s going to miss it like something he never really had, of course he is.

“I’m sure I’ll survive without you, love,” he says.

I’m sure I’ll survive without your love, he means.

Eames hums haughtily, in a I don’t believe you way. He gets up, sets his glass down, and moves behind the sofa.

“What are you doing?”

“You won’t miss this?” says Eames, and puts his hands on Arthur’s shoulders.

It takes him about three seconds to turn him into a garbling heap. He’s shuddering and mumbling profanities, and Eames loves this, loves making Arthur lose control.

“Oh, fuck me, Eames, shit.”

“About that,” says Eames, and, to hell with it, he licks at Arthur’s neck.

Jesus, I – oh fuck, no, I can’t, I, shi-it…”

“What was that, darling?”

And Arthur wants this but he just can’t, because they’re leaving tomorrow and this might just be sex for Eames but it’s not for Arthur, it’s not, it’s not because it’s breaking his heart. And somehow he pulls himself away and turns around to face Eames and looks at him, and he’s not cold, not distant, just sad.

“Why not?” Eames says.

Arthur tries to think, tries to say something, tries to make Eames understand, but the words in his head are chaotic and confused, and there’s only one thought that’s clear, that makes sense, and he grabs onto it.

So he says something stupid.

He says, “I’m in love with you.”

Because he is.

Eames says, “Oh, shit.”

And he reels back and runs a hand through his hair and looks at Arthur like he’s just broken something precious. Like he’s just ruined something.

“Fuck,” he says.

And then he leaves.

Chapter Text

Eames goes back to a dingy room in the red light district above some hooker’s. He lies on a narrow bed. His jumper smells like Arthur, why is that, because it’s his, oh fuck, how’s he going to give it back, that’ll be awkward, but is it if creepy if he keeps it, purely because it’s warm, that is, and he’s probably focusing on the wrong thing here because Arthur is in love with him. Arthur is in love with him. He repeats the sentence in his head because it’s something strange, something indescribable, something he doesn’t understand. Arthur, uptight amazing stick-in-the-mud sexy OCD Arthur, who makes him coffee and groans when he touches him and gets angry all too easily and shoots him through the heart, he loves him. And Eames doesn’t love him back. He thinks.

“Fuck you, Arthur,” he whispers, and knows he’s going to dream about him tonight.

 

The next morning is pretty awkward. Well, things are going to be awkward between two people who spent last night thinking of each other. It’s Cobb’s job to notice things, and he notices the subtle differences in his colleagues. The quietness, the indifference, the way they don’t come into work together. Also, Eames isn’t wearing Arthur’s clothes, or at least the same clothes as the day before, they’re pointedly ignoring each other, Arthur’s giving Eames these hard looks of anger and longing when he thinks he’s not looking, and Eames is doing a similar thing, but there’s probably more lust there. So, well, it is pretty obvious that some shit went down last night.

“Everything alright?” Cobb asks.

“Fine,” says Arthur.

“Spiffing,” says Eames.

For some reason, Cobb doesn’t believe either of them.

“Well, it obviously isn’t,” he says.

“Now what makes you say that?” Arthur asks weightily.

“Because you two aren’t eyefucking for once.”

Arthur clenches his jaw and Cobb knows he’ll never get anything out of him, so he pulls a very reluctant Eames into the kitchen.

“What is going on?” Cobb demands.

Eames just shrugs.

“Dammit, Eames,” Cobb cries, “We’ve got a job to do here, in case you hadn’t noticed. We all need it to come through. We can’t be compromised by your and Arthur’s personal shit.”

He sighs and fixes Eames with an angry squint.

“This is why you don’t bring relationships into work.”

“Well, I think you did it with Mal,” Eames bites back.

“That was different.”

“Really? How?”

“I was serious about Mal. We weren’t just messing around. I love her.”

And Eames is angry, because what right does he have to judge him, to say that him and Arthur are just fucking and that’s it, that their screwed-up relationship doesn’t mean anything, because fuck, it does, it means a lot, even if it makes no fucking sense.

“Arthur loves me!” he cries indignantly.

Then he realises that he sounds far too in love for a man who’s not in love, and Arthur probably heard that, and his stomach twists.

“So what the fuck is wrong with you?” Cobb asks, exasperated, “If he loves you, what’s the problem?”

Eames looks down, because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t know.

Eames,” Cobb says meaningfully, waiting for an explanation.

“I – just – I fucked up, OK?”

It’s possibly the worst explanation of his life, apart from maybe There were people and they did things to me, but he really wants to put that night in Liverpool behind him.

“Oh,” Cobb says stiffly, his voice full of blame, “Let me guess. You thought it was just sex but he really fell for you?”

And Eames wants to hit him then, really he does, because he’s right about him.

“You’re right,” Cobb says harshly, “You did fuck up.”

And he’s right, of course he is, because Eames walked away from Arthur, and he should have stayed and said something, but he didn’t and now Arthur’s hurt and things can’t be the same again, not ever.

“So now,” Cobb says, his voice level, “You’re going to just do this job, you’re going take your money, and then you’re going to leave. And you never need to have anything to do with Arthur again.”

Eames just nods, because soon this will all be over and he’ll run away to one part of the world and Arthur will run away to another and they won’t see each other again. And they’ll still matter to each other, it’ll still mean something when they hear each other’s names, when they can’t sleep and they think of the things they should have done, but it’ll hurt less, it’ll go numb with time, until they’re just a smudge in each other’s lives, a few months of something they didn’t understand and has gone now.

 

Arthur dies in Eames’ arms. He’s done his job and he’s meant to get to the bridge so they can ride the kick back, but he never gets to the bridge. He’s dashing down a back alley and suddenly there’s a gunshot from the rooftop and he isn’t quick enough. There’s a bullet in his stomach and cold terror in his heart as he crashes to the ground. He lies there and stares up into a sunless sky. There’s a red stain blossoming across his shirt and seeping across the pavement like a quiet rumour, and he’s dreaming, he knows he is, but it doesn’t make the pain any less real.

He’s dying, he’s dying, and he’s never going to smile again, he’s never going to see another sun, he’s never going to walk in a crowd of people amongst all their tiny meaningless lives, he’s never going to kiss Eames. And it doesn’t matter that he’s dying, because people do it all the time, like growing up or going to work or falling in love, and it’s nothing special, it’s just something people do. And sometimes things don’t work out and you go unwanted, unkissed, and you die alone in an unfamiliar backstreet, wishing that someone loved you. And no-one really cares.

 

Eames finds him. He’s done his job and he gets to the bridge so they can ride the kick back, but Arthur’s not there. He knows something’s wrong, because this is Arthur, uptight stick-in-the-mud OCD Arthur, who’s devastatingly logical and doesn’t make mistakes. So he goes after him. He gets there in ten minutes, and he runs the whole way. And oh God, he’s fucking covered in blood, and Eames thinks he’s dead but he’s not, not yet, and fuck, poor darling, he’s gasping for air.

“Arthur!” he cries, he sounds far too in love for a man who’s not in love, “Oh fuck, Arthur.”

And he runs to him and kneels by his side and holds him in his arms.

“Oh God,” he murmurs, “Fuck, that’s, oh shit, Arthur…”

And this isn’t real but it fucking feels real and the man who loves him is dying in his arms. Arthur looks up at him and manages a small, hurt smile.

“Hello,” he says, his voice cracked and pained.

It breaks Eames, seeing that.

“Ssh,” he says, putting a finger to Arthur’s lips.

And he kisses Arthur, because he can’t not kiss him, he puts a hand to his face and kisses his forehead and says, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not – your fault,” Arthur breathes, “I – made a mistake. Doesn’t matter.”

And Eames is crying, because it does matter, it fucking does, because this means something, he just doesn’t know what yet.

“Yes it does,” he says, “I fucked up, I know I did, I’m sorry darling, oh shit, you’re so, I don’t, God…”

Arthur grasps at him, fingers curling around the collar of his shirt, and he loves Eames, he still does, he loves him impossibly. And it doesn’t matter that he’s dying, because Eames is here with him and soon this will all be over, but Arthur will still love him, even after, because he just knows he won’t be able to stop.

Then the familiar music echoes around them and they’ve missed it, they’ve missed the kick. Eames pulls a gun out of his jacket at pushes it into Arthur’s hand.

“Kill me,” he says.

Arthur somehow holds the gun against Eames’ chest, next to his heart. He looks straight at him, and Eames nods. And this is the end, only it’s not somehow, but the world is darkening and he can’t remember why.

“Kiss me,” he says.

So Eames leans down and pushes a hand into Arthur’s hair and kisses him, and it’s like the world just stops for a moment, and Arthur kisses a regret into Eames’ lips and then he pulls the trigger. I love you, he thinks, and that’s his last thought, because then the darkness closes over him, and he dies.

 

They wake up. It’s a bit of an anti-climax really. You can’t exactly top dying in your lover’s arms. There’s something wonderfully overwrought and melodramatic about the whole thing. Very Romeo and Juliet. When Arthur finds he’s actually still alive, it’s almost a disappointment. Because being alive means he’s leaving Amsterdam today to go God knows where. Because being alive means he’ll just be onto the next job, then onto the next, as he always is, alone and over again. Because being alive means Eames doesn’t love him.

“Are you alright?” Cobb asks, looming over him like some weird looming thing.

“Ugh… yeah?” Arthur says, feeling his stomach and finding it neither punctured with a bullet nor covered in blood, “Yeah, I’m OK.”

“You missed the kick,” says Cobb, who seems to not take Arthur being fine as a reason to stop looming over him.

“Yeah…” Arthur says vaguely.

“What happened?”

“Cobb – can you just… give me a moment?” Arthur says, because his head hurts and he can’t be dealing with loomy Cobb and his searching questions right now.

Cobb nods and moves away, patting Arthur on the shoulder. Arthur’s eyes hurt because there’s so much light, and he rubs his eyes and groans, because he’ll never get used to dying.

“Look Cobb, I already told you, we just got held up,” Eames says, oh God, Eames.

“I want to hear that from him,” says Cobb tersely.

“What do you think happened? Oh what, you think I killed him?”

“I told you not to let your personal life get in the way of the job,” Cobb says angrily, “How am I supposed to take this?”

Arthur pushes himself up to a sitting position, blinking and bleary-eyed. Eames is sitting on a chair, looking pretty wrecked, and Cobb is frowning angrily at him, arms crossed.

“Arthur will tell you the same thing I did,” says Eames.

“What?” Arthur asks.

Eames looks at him, eyes tinged with sadness and the weight of what he’s done.

“There were too many projections,” he says, “We couldn’t get to the bridge in time.”

“Is that true?” Cobb asks.

Eames bites his lip, and Arthur knows what he has to say.

“Yes,” he says.

Cobb looks from Eames to Arthur, and he knows there’s something more to it, but he just sighs and says grudgingly, “Well, we pulled it off alright. Good work.” And he goes off somewhere to pack up the equipment or something. Arthur runs a hand over his face and manages a small smile.

“You OK?” he asks.

“I’m good, considering you’re making a habit of shooting me.”

Arthur breathes out, a half-laugh, and looks at Eames.

“Can’t get rid of you that easily, I guess.”

“I’m leaving today,” Eames says, and it’s abrupt and bloodless.

Arthur looks down.

“Yes. Of course you are.”

He tries to ignore the stab of sadness in his stomach, but he can’t stop it. Because Eames kissed him. He kissed him and died in his arms. And nothing’s changed.

 

Eames comes to get his things from Arthur’s apartment. It’s awkward, like getting his stuff back from an ex he’s just broken up with. Not that he’s ever done that before. He’s a one night stand, not a boyfriend. Arthur’s left all of Eames’ things neatly on the sofa, because he wants this to be quick, for Eames to just take his shit and go. And that’s what happens.

“Thanks,” says Eames, bundling everything into his bag.

“No problem,” says Arthur, who’s trying to look busy in the kitchen by moving various utensils from one counter to the other because he can’t think of anything else to do, “Um, you don’t have my jumper, do you?”

“Oh, sorry, er, I can go and get it now?”

“No, it’s fine.”

Eames looks at him, an unspoken question.

“It doesn’t fit me anyway,” Arthur says hastily.

Eames nods and shoulders his bag.

“Well, goodbye, I guess,” he says.

“Yeah.”

Eames steps towards him and reaches a hand out, gripping his shoulder, and why is this so hard, letting him go, how does he just walk away from someone like Arthur, someone who he used to think was condescending and complex and cold, someone who’s shot him through the heart twice, someone who loves him.

“Thank you,” Eames says, “It’s… it’s been good.”

“Yeah.”

Eames wants to pull him close and kiss him goodbye, but he doesn’t. He’s already done that. He shouldn’t have.

“Goodbye, Mr Eames,” Arthur says.

“Goodbye, Arthur.”

And his voice is too soft and Arthur’s eyes are too soft and they’re just standing there looking at each other until Eames lets go and turns away from him. And then he leaves. Arthur has only ever fallen in love once. It’s impossibly hard. He shuts the door behind Eames, and then he leans against it and cries. It seems so pathetic, but he doesn’t really care. His heart’s broken.

 

Eames walks back to his dingy rented room in the autumn rain. He packs his things, (which means he crams them into his stuffed suitcase), he pays the landlady, he walks to the train station, he looks at the timetable, he tries not to feel hollow inside. He buys a ticket to Berlin. There’ll be a job going there, because he knows a guy who knows a guy and there’s always something for him if he asks nicely. He stands by the train tracks and he knows it’s real but it doesn’t fucking feel real because he’s numb, muted, empty. It doesn’t hurt, it’s just the dead ache of loss. He’s incomplete. It’s wrong. He shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be running away, shouldn’t be alone. It’s like white noise, this nothingness.

 

He gets on the train. He sits by the window opposite a smartly dressed young woman reading the newspaper. Normally he would have hit on her, but not today. Today he leans his head against the window and looks at the sprawling city outside, at the crowds of people and all their tiny meaningless lives, and thinks about Arthur. How can he not think about him? He remembers Arthur when they first met, all cold and condescending and callous. He remembers Arthur when Eames annoyed him, all cutting comments and furious frowns and I hate yous. He remembers Arthur when he was a hot mess under Eames’ hands, all groans and gasps and fuck me, Eames. He likes remembering that best.

It takes him a few minutes to realise that the young woman is staring at him.

“Are you alright?” she asks, her voice accented and anxious.

“Ugh… hmm?” Eames manages.

“You have been talking for the past few minutes.”

“Oh, sorry. What did I say?”

“You were saying… ‘fuck, I love you’,” she says, embarrassed.

And that’s it, that’s it. Eames’ life changes because of a stranger on the train.

“Oh, Christ!” he cries, “You’re right, how could I not know, all this time, all this time I loved him and I didn’t even know, how did I not know, that gorgeous idiot, I love him, oh God, I fucking love him, you wonderful woman, thank you, thank you.”

He grabs the woman’s shoulders and kisses her soundly on the cheek. She looks truly horrified, but Eames doesn’t care, because he’s in love, oh God, he really is, and he needs to get off this train right now, he’ll run all the way to wherever the hell Arthur has got himself if he has to, because he loves him.

“When’s the next stop?” he asks, grinning like a madman.

The train pulls into a station then and he has no idea which one it is but it doesn’t matter. He gets up and runs to the doors, then realises he’s forgotten his suitcase, runs back and gets it, runs to the doors again, blows a kiss to the young woman because he’s a charming English eccentric, darling, and leaps off the train.

He’s brimming with eagerness and happiness, but there is the small matter of working out where Arthur actually is. He looks up at the departure boards and he doesn’t know what on earth he’s looking for, but he reads through the destinations and there’s one name that stays in his head, and he knows that that’s where he has to go.

 

He gets the next train to Paris. He has no idea what he’s doing, he’s just hopeful and in love and it’s like running blindly into a motorway and trusting that you won’t get hit. Arthur was right; he does like Paris. The sounds, the sights, the smells. He speaks French like a true Englishman and a war with France is always traditional, but still, he likes Paris.

Problem is, Paris is a big place, and people are only small. He probably should have thought about this before, but how the hell is he going to find Arthur? Eames doesn’t know what in God’s name he should do, which is happening quite a lot recently, so he goes to the tourist information centre (which is what he guesses a centre d'information touristique is) and flicks through the leaflets, trying to find he doesn’t know what, inspiration, an idea. He finds it in a leaflet for the Musée du Louvre. The Louvre. The most visited art museum in the world, over 60,000 square metres big, housing around 35,000 objects. With a fucking massive metal pyramid right in front of it. Eames thinks of a stolen glance at a sketchbook, of triangles within triangles within triangles, of endlessness. Arthur loves paradoxes.

 

Eames finds him. It takes forever, because the map on the back of the leaflet is awful and how can he be expected to read French signs and he ends up accosting a man with a moustache and just shouting, “Louvre!” at him until he points him in the right direction and he finally gets there.

Arthur’s there. Oh heck, he’s actually there, he’s far away and in a crowd but Eames knows it’s him. He’s standing there, sketchbook resting on one arm, eyes flitting between the pyramid and the page. And oh God, Eames looks like he’s been dragged backwards through about eighteen hedges because he’s been dashing about train stations and side streets, and he tells himself not to be so paranoid, because he’s bloody gorgeous, but oh what’s he going to say to Arthur, and what if he doesn’t want him, he didn’t think about that, and seriously, he’s freaking out like a bloody schoolgirl, he needs to pull himself together and get the fuck over there.

Arthur’s focused, fixed on his work, and Eames shuffles up in his tatty trenchcoat, dragging his suitcase along, and Arthur doesn’t notice him until he’s standing next to him, and he looks a right state, even more so than usual, somewhere between awkward and shy and hopeful all at once.

“Hello,” he says, like it isn’t a big deal.

It is a big deal.

“Eames?” Arthur says, sounding more angry and confused than anything else, “What? What are you doing here?”

Eames doesn’t know how to say it, how to tell him, and the words just fall out of his mouth.

“Arthur, I’m sorry,” he begins, and it’s a crap beginning and he knows it’s just going to go downhill from here in, “I’ve been a prick, a complete, utter, top-notch prick, and I know I fucked up, several times, and I left you, again, several times, but Arthur, you’re amazing, you just – you do these things, and oh, darling, I’m mad about you.”

Arthur blinks at him, because he’s talking very fast and making very little sense and what the fuck is he actually trying to say.

“I’m sorry, what?”

Eames decides he should probably say something a bit simpler.

He says, “I’m in love with you.”

Because he is.

Arthur says, “What?”

And he looks at Eames like he’s actually gone insane.

Eames steps closer to him and gently touches his face with the back of his hand.

“I’m in love with you,” he says softly.

“You – but – you – what?”

Arthur really doesn’t seem to be getting this. Jesus, what does Eames have to do, declare his love through song?

“Arthur,” he says meaningfully, “I’ve never wanted to be with anyone for more than one night, for more than one thing, and then I go. But with you, I just – I want to stay with you. And if I go, I always come back. I always come back to find you, Arthur, because you mean something to me. And I want you, Arthur, for more than one night, I want you for as long as you’ll have me, I –”

“Eames, just – stop talking and kiss me,” Arthur says, grabbing the collar of his coat and pulling him in.

He shuts him up with a kiss. It’s long and soft and his sketchbook is kind of in the way and Eames’ arms are around his waist and why have they not been doing this every day since they met each other, because it’s slow and sweet and fucking fantastic and Jesus Christ, they are doing this again, amongst other things. Arthur pulls away and leans his forehead against Eames’, their breath mingling in the winter air.

“So this is it, OK?” he says, stroking at Eames’ hair, “Oh God, Eames, I will kill you, I love you so fucking much, don’t go again.”

“I won’t. I promise.”

And Arthur somehow manoeuvres himself to put his sketchbook down and puts his hands either side of Eames’ face and he smiles. Eames never forgets that, the first time Arthur smiles at him one cold afternoon in Paris. It’s real and adorable and full of promise. And Eames knows that this is it, this is what he wants, him and Arthur together, because it’s flawed and a bit screwed up but it’s beautiful.

“I fucking love you,” says Arthur.

“Oh darling,” says Eames, “I love you too.”